Keeping everyone safe ‘not easy’ says Greg Van Avermaet, as sweltering Strade Bianche beckons

The peloton will face temperatures into the mid-thirties as Michał Kwiatkowski says the summer heat has made the gravel 'like racing on snow'

As well as having to contend with any potential teething problems of being the first WorldTour race back after the coronavirus break, the peloton at Strade Bianche will also face sweltering heat and stonier gravel than in March.

That is the estimation of CCC’s Greg Van Avermaet, who’s twice finished runner-up in the Italian one-day race and is once again aiming for the top placings on Saturday.

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“It’s gonna be super warm. The race looks a little bit different than in March, it’s a little bit stonier and a little bit more gravel I think…but every rider is excited to start the season,” Van Avermaet said outside his team hotel.

Having reconned the last 75km on Thursday, two-time winner Michał Kwiatkowski (Ineos) says the surface is more like “racing on snow” compared to road conditions in March,  the race’s normal date.

“The gravel is just looser, it’s dustier. So obviously everybody’s going to have less grip. I would compare it to racing on snow now.

“There are plenty of rocks, little rocks, dust, everything that’s on the road. So it might be hard for someone who’s never done it.”

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As for safety concerns, the Vuelta a Burgos has so far shown the return of racing is viable, but nevertheless, coronavirus anxiety will likely remain for the foreseeable.

“Yeah, I think we’ve tried to do [it] as well as possible,” Van Avermaet says of the protocols being implemented, while a team staff member pulls a tape barrier across separating the Olympic champion from the press who are leaning in closer and closer to hear the muted Belgian.

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“It’s not easy because we are traveling quite a lot, it’s a big peloton, it’s a big bubble. I think the most important is the testing. Seeing who is positive and who is negative and hoping everything in our team can be easily managed. I think [maintaining] these kinds of conditions make it possible to restart racing, which is important for us, for the sponsors and for the whole of cycling.”

Kwiatkowski is equally satisfied with the measures put in place but says the worry lingers that at any point he could come into contact with someone who is positive and unknowingly pass it on to someone else.

“Since March, or let’s say the beginning of the lockdown, I have one thing in mind. Whoever I meet, they might be a potential person with coronavirus.”

Both riders name each other as favourites for the race, as well as the likes of Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) in what is the first of many all-star casts fans can expect in quick succession during the revised calendar.

The pair are quietly assured ahead of shortened seasons and their futures up in the air. With plenty more opportunities for wins in the months ahead, the pressure may be off for now.

Kwiatkowski says he’ll focus on racing while letting his agent sort out his deal for 2021, while Van Avermaet has faith in team manager Jim Ochowicz to find a new backer for CCC.

“I’m just keeping my options open,” Van Avermaet said when asked about the speculation linking him to teams such as Ag2r La Mondiale and Israel Start-Up Nation. “I’m still confident in my own team finding a new sponsor. But of course, I’m also looking for other teams to go to if it’s not working, especially in these times where it’s not hard to find a sponsor. So I’m just waiting for some of these decisions from Och [Ochowicz] to find something and afterwards, it’s not possible, of course, I will try my chances anywhere else.”