It might seem like sacrilege to many Belgians, but Olympic men’s road race champion and born and bred Flandrien Greg Van Avermaet has said that his gold medal in Rio is worth far more than a win in the Tour of Flanders.
“Would I swap my Olympic win for a Tour of Flanders win? No way!” the BMC rider explained at the team’s pre-season training camp.
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“People in cycling need to realise that the Olympics are the biggest event in sport. There’s nothing bigger than that.
“A lot of people in cycling think that the World Championships are more important, but it’s very different.
“If you say to people ‘I’m Olympic champion’ then everybody knows what you’re talking about. But if you say ‘I’m world champion’ then some people don’t even know that there is a cycling World Championships.”
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Van Avermaet may not yet have a Classics victory to his name, but he is still a very well known face in his cycling-mad home country. Even so, there has still be a change in people’s attitude towards him since his Olympic victory.
“Belgium is an amazing cycling country, but sometimes when you go out with your family or go shopping then it can be hard when everyone is always stopping you.
“I’ve noticed a big change since the Olympics, there are more and more people coming up to me, but it’s all part of the job.”
As for his aspirations for the 2017 season, Van Avermaet seems to be broadening his horizons to the Ardennes Classics now that Philippe Gilbert has departed to Quick-Step Floors.
“I hope there are more races for me now Gilbert has left. When he was here I’d do Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, then he’d do Amstel Gold and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Now I can go to Amstel and ride for myself.
“I like Amstel, and it’s one of my favourite races, so I’m happy that I can go there and try to win.
“I’d love to have a crack at Liège too but it’s not easy to say whether I will be on form there. My first focus is to win Flanders, and then I’ll go from there.”