Greg Van Avermaet, Olympic champion, Roubaix winner, to retire from cycling at the end of 2023

The Belgian says he has "no regrets" as he will head out of the peloton aged 38

Greg van Avermaet
(Image credit: Getty Images)

On the British comedy interview podcast Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast, guests are often asked whether they think their obituary photo has already been taken. The answers are illuminating: does the guest - usually a comedian - think that their career heights, what they will be known for, has already happened, or do they think their peak is yet to come?

Professional athletes get two obituaries. One when they retire from their sport, and then one when they eventually pass on. For Greg Van Avermaet, who announced on Wednesday that he will be stepping back from the professional peloton at the end of 2023 after 17 seasons at the top, the photos have absolutely already been taken.

The Belgian was consistently one of the best riders from 2015-2020, the winner of Paris-Roubaix, Gent-Wevelgem, stages of the Tour de France and champion of that most elusive of titles, the Olympic Games Road Race, in 2016. There are photos from those wins, of course, but also his time in yellow at the Tour in 2018, which went on longer than anyone would ever have imagined, and many other occasions throughout his career.

Greg van Avermaet

(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's the Olympics win that stands out, however. The race only happens every four years, is ridden on a brand new course every time, without race radios, in national teams, and is therefore even more unique than the World Championships, although one can argue which one means more to a professional cyclist.

“The most important moment of my career was Rio because it was an Olympic title. I was always the guy who got a lot of good results, every race top 10, but before Rio I never really won a big race,” he told Procycling back in 2019.

“It was a great gift actually to win this because it’s something different to all the other races. You can win Flanders, you can win Roubaix but not a lot of guys get to be Olympic champion in their career.”

On Wednesday morning, the 37-year-old posted on Instagram that the "adventure will come to an end", but that he did not have any regrets. While he was overtaken by a new generation of multi-discipline stars, he kept grinding away. Third at the Tour of Flanders in 2021, behind Kasper Asgreen and Mathieu van der Poel, and third at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2022, behind Wout van Aert and Sonny Colbrelli, are proof of that no regret riding.

It is easy to focus on who an athlete is now at the moment of retiring, rather than who they were in their heyday, simple to look at 37th at Paris-Roubaix 2023 than 1st at Paris-Roubaix 2017, but it is crucial to remember the good times.

After winning the Olympic Road Race in 2016, Van Avermaet won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix in a golden beginning to 2017, which also included second-places at Strade Bianche and the Tour of Flanders. Given this was the age that Peter Sagan was expected to dominate, it was some achievement. It is fitting that Sagan is also stepping back this year.

2018 didn't reach the same heights, but third at E3, fifth at Flanders and fourth at Roubaix was nothing to be sniffed at, especially as a marked man in his gold Olympic champion helmet.

Greg van Avermaet

(Image credit: Getty Images)

"Sadly this adventure will come to an end," Van Avermaet, who will be 38 at the end of the season, wrote on Instagram. "As hard as the decision was, when I look back I am extremely proud of my achievements. I gave every day the best of myself, just to not have any regrets afterwards. I did not only enjoy the victory but also the way to it. 

"I wanna thank all the people that believed in me and helped me throughout my career. I’m extremely thankful to all my fans who supported me, not only during my glory days, but also during the difficult times. Now it’s time to spend some time with my wife and kids and to look for other goals in life in which I will hopefully find the same passion. 

"Until the end of the season I will still give my all with my team AG2R Citroën, that I thank for its trust and team spirit for the last 3 years, just like I did from the first day I decided to start cycling. Hopefully I can finish off with some nice results!"

Van Avermaet started off his career at Predictor-Lotto in 2007, where he won his first race, a stage of the Tour of Qatar that year. He moved to BMC Racing in 2011, where his biggest achievements occurred. His victory at 2016's Tirreno-Adriatico set him up for his golden period.

His two Tour de France stage wins also came in his days in the red of BMC, at Rodez in 2015 and Le Lioran in 2016, with spells in yellow totalling 11 days coming in 2016 and 2018.

The Belgian stuck with the same squad when BMC transitioned to CCC in 2019, winning the GP de Montréal that year, before he moved to AG2R Citroën in 2021.

He is set to ride the Tour du Finistère, Boucles de l'Aulne and 4 Jours de Dunkerque this month, and might yet one more Tour de France this summer.

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