CyclingPub Feature: At 31, Greg Van Avermaet is on top of cycling
Dec 13 2016 02:05 pm CET

CyclingPub Feature: At 31, Greg Van Avermaet is on top of cycling
CyclingPub Feature: At 31, Greg Van Avermaet is on top of cycling
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GREG VAN AVERMAET

Greg Van Avermaet, currently one of Belgium's biggest riders and the proud owner of an Olympic Gold medal, has plenty of good things to look back on while working hard to be ready ahead of the coming season.

The 2016 season will take a special place in Van Avermaet's memories. The Belgian spent some days in the Yellow Jersey of the Tour de France and went on to win the Olympic Road Race in Rio de Janeiro.

Talking to journalists at BMC Racing Team's media day in Denia, Spain, Van Avermaet discusses his Olympic success and his plans for the coming season.

"I was consistent the whole year again. from Qatar until the World Championships in Qatar, I was there. Not too many big victories but finally I can say that I am where I wanted to be. I had to fight a lot of years for this place but finally I made it. I'm 31 years old now and I think I'm on top of cycling now in the classics."

The rider suffered a leg injury shortly after the end of the season. Far from ideal, of course, but the timing could have been worse and it may even benefit the rider in the long run, he thinks.

"I am a little bit behind now, that's for sure. It's been a busy season, a busy winter. Maybe it's not a bad issue to have now. I've been on my bike for a week now, trying to do as much as possible but also having to be careful not doing too much. I broke my leg so it's still a bit risky to overdo it.

"But I feel good on my bike, I feel healthy. I'm ready to train more. I think I will start my season a bit later but one of the big goals will be to be at 100 percent again. I need a good January of training and hopefully no problems throughout the season. We will see but for now I am still pretty confident that I won't miss anything. I do the same build-up as every year and I will be riding for the first classics," he affirms.
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BMC Racing Team, media day (Denia, 2016)
Photos by Mary Cárdenas / CyclingPub.com
If the build-up works out, Van Avermaet may even consider a similar approach for the future, albeit without actually having to break his leg in advance.

"If it's like this, I can do it every year. I'm the kind of guy who always wants to work, leave the group in training to make it a bit harder, but now I'm the guy who stays in the back and is the first to go home again. It's a bit strange but it may not be a bad thing. If it goes well it may be a good lesson to take for next year and take it a bit easier in the winter."

The rider, often abbreviated as GvA, recently won a number of awards in his home country and is a big candidate to win the title of Sportsman of the Year later this month.

"It's important to me," he says. "When I was younger I didn't care so much about these awards but now that I'm getting a bit older I have more respect for it.

"Especially this year as I get trophies outside of cycling as well, competing against athletes from different sports. Maybe I will be sportsman of the year in Belgium this year and if you see the list of athletes it's pretty special to see your name on it. I respect these awards and I hope to get as many as possible. But the most important is still the racing as you'll never make it without the results. I hope to win as much as possible but racing is still the thing I love the most."

Naturally, fame comes with a negative side. Van Avermaet explains that it's not always easy to deal with the fans when you're only trying to have a meal out with your family.

"It's hard. Sometimes it's annoying. Belgium is a real cycling country, people love cycling. It's part of our history. It's nice in one way but sometimes when you go out with your family, to a restaurant, it can be hard. When shopping, everybody comes to you. This is a big change also after the Olympics. I was pretty popular already but the amount of people now coming to me is still a big higher. But it's part of this job I think.

"I won't move out of Belgium. I love this country and I try to deal with it as much as possible. If I'm in a cycling kit I will always be happy to help people. But sometimes they also have to understand that when I'm in normal clothing, in private places, it's sometimes hard to deal with."

He would never swap his Olympic win however, not even for a victory in the Tour of Flanders. "No. Once you're an Olympic champion there's nothing higher. I think that people in cycling are also starting to realize that. The Olympics are the biggest event in the world. Every athlete from every discipline comes here to try to prove themselves and try to win something. In cycling people are also starting to understand that."

Van Avermaet does believe that the world of cycling has a rather strange mentality when it's about the Olympics. "When you tell people that you're an Olympic champion, everybody knows what you're talking about. When you tell them that you're a world champion, they ask you 'in what?'. It's above everything and if you see how other athletes work for one goal for four years and we as riders still just go to the Olympics because there's a race there and then hurry back for the Eneco Tour, it's a bit crazy."

With Spaniard Samuel Sanchez, BMC already had an Olympic champion on its roster. "Samu is crazy about the Olympics," Van Avermaet says, with visible amusement. "He mentions it every day and he was the first one to give me Olympic socks. Every time I see him he asks me 'where is your Olympic tattoo!?'. I tell him that I won't get any but he keeps saying that I have to.

"I'm not a tattoo guy. It will be in my memory, that's the most important. I don't have to show it on my body."

The Tour of Flanders continues to be the biggest target for the Belgian after having finished second in 2014 and third in 2015. "For me it's still the most important race. For a Flemish rider it's really important to win. I say this every year but I want to finally get it."

The route, and the reinclusion of the Muur of Geraardsbergen, are a big topic of discussion these days. Van Avermaet has mixed feelings.

"They're passing my home town. Now that they come from Antwerp to Oudenaarde they go past the place where I grew up. It's a special feeling that they're passing the smallest village in Belgium, where I grew up.

"I hope they won't change the route too much any more. I'm not a big fan. I was a fan of Bruges. I think it was the nicest start of the whole year there. So many people, so much atmosphere. I don't like the changes but the organizers decide, not me.

"I like the Muur. I train on it almost every day. I really like the climb. But it's hard to fit in the parcours. To go from Oudenaarde back to Geraardsbergen and then back to Oudenaarde is hard. It's good that the last 85 kilometers stay the same. That's the most important; there we can make the difference.

While the Olympic Gold medal is certain to have a special place in Van Avermaet's living room, one thing that is still missing for the rider is a Rainbow Jersey. The route in Norway suits him well, he believes.

"It's a good course for me. Last year in Qatar was not my favorite course but this year for sure is suits me pretty well. Short climbs, a pretty long race and probably rain, so I'm looking forward to it and it's one of my goals next year."

By Jonathan Roorda
Photo of Greg Van Avermaet by Mary Cárdenas / CyclingPub.com





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