Van Avermaet took his biggest win yet when he won the 13th stage of the Tour de France last year ahead of Peter Sagan (Tinkoff). He returned in 2016 to win the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad cobbled classic, and a stage and the overall title in the Tirreno-Adriatico. The step up in quality has made the nearly-man a five-star favourite for both Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.
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“If I’m second or third I will be disappointed,” Van Avermaet said. “I’m not happy any more with second or third places. If you give it all and then you’re second or third it is like it is but you’re still disappointed. My only goal is winning those classics and if I’m not there then it’s just not good enough.”
The 30-year-old placed third in both the Tour of Flanders and Roubaix last year. This year, with Tom Boonen still fighting to reach top form after fracturing his skull in October, Van Avermaet is the Belgian favourite.
The only hitch could be that he sat out E3 Harelbeke due to stomach problems. He raced Ghent-Wevelgem two days later, however, and just missed the winning move on the descent of the Kemmelberg.
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“Every year, I feel like I can win and it and this year is my best year so far. I was a little bit sick last week and it didn’t go how I wanted it to go, but I feel that my strength is coming back. I’ve felt good this week and I’m really happy that I can be in the start in Bruges.
“OK, there is a lot of pressure but I am also going to enjoy it. It’s something special as a Belgian to start in these races as a leader of one of the biggest teams in the world,” added Van Avermaet.
“For me, I think there was something in winning already. This is something that I take with me that I’ve won three races already ahead of this most important classic. I know I can beat strong guys and I know I finish races like [the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad].
“It gives me confidence that if we come in a sprint with four or five guys, which is a possibility in Flanders, that I can win.”