In his 12 participations in the Tour of Flanders Greg Van Avermaet has finished as runner-up twice, but he says he is not bothered if he ends his career without a win in what he considers the “most important race of the year.”
The 33-year-old Belgian leads the CCC Team on Sunday in Bruges and is marked as one of the favourites along with the strong Deceuninck-Quick-Step squad. The cobbled Monument ends after 270.1 kilometres and many bergs in Oudenaarde.
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“If I never win? It will not change my life, but it’s a goal as an athlete. First you want to turn pro, you want to reach some goals and then others,” he said.
“I was eighth right away, I thought I’d for sure win soon. I have been close but it didn’t happen yet. You have to have to have goals in life and it’s my big goal. It fits me the best. I think I still have a few years, but I’d rather win on Sunday than the year after.”
Van Avermaet is the reigning Olympic Champion from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games road race and also won the 2017 Paris-Roubaix, his only Monument victory so far. For him, though, Flanders remains the top prize, having dreamt of it since he was a kid growing up in Lokeren, East Flanders.
Van Avermaet ranks himself just below Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s Bob Jungels and Zdeněk Štybar, and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) – who he described as the three favourites to win in Oudenaarde.
“For sure I’ll be nervous. It’s for me the most important race of the year, if you don’t get nervous about these things thing you better give up,” he added.
“It keeps me going in the winter, it’s an honour to start as a favourite. I wanted to be one of them when I was a kid, now I am. For sure, you have to be nervous, it’s a healthy thing.”
He came out of the gates strong in 2019 by winning a stage in the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and has been near the front challenging since, placing second in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and pushing the eventual winning group clear in the E3 BinckBank Classic. They joined a solo Jungels, but Van Avermaet placed third in Harelbeke.
“I’m happy about my form and the races I did, I’m in a good shape to do a good result on Sunday,” he said.
“I’m always riding my own races, I like my way of riding, my character is to attack and make the race. I’m not a guy who always follows and waits. If I’m comfortable, I make my own moves,” he explained.
“E3 and Omloop give me confidence that that I can make that decisive move, they are the closest races in comparison to Flanders.”
Van Avermaet races the next three Sundays with Flanders followed by Paris-Roubaix and the Amstel Gold Race.
“The two to three races coming now are the most important. I wasn’t able to win yet,” he said. “It’s winning that counts. For me this is the biggest goal of the year, and there’s a lot of weight on it.”