Catching Up with CCC’s Greg Van Avermaet
Rider Interview: Last, but certainly not least, in our series of interviews with riders from the CCC team is the top man himself; Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet. Greg looks back at 2019 and looks forward to 2020, the Classics and the Olympics… We also talk babies!
# This interview was before the coronavirus caused the changes in the calendar. #
PEZ: What are you thoughts on the 2019 season:
Greg Van Avermaet: Generally I think we did quite well for the riders we could sign, at the last moment. I think we were able to do a good Classic campaign, especially with me. Of course a big victory was not there. I know from the past, winning or losing, is a big difference, just from the opinion of the people and from the journalists. So I think I can be quite happy with my last campaign because I tried to do as well as possible. I put a lot of effort to build a team around me and to bring everybody with me to a good level. I think it cost some energy, but I think we did quite well. I was second in Nieuwsblad and plenty of close places, I think where I could win. If I won Nieuwsblad there would be a different opinion also San Sebastian I was second. Overall, again a really consistent season, but yeah. Montreal changed a little bit because it’s a victory again and it’s a big difference between winning and losing. Overall, just a good consistent year, but yeah nothing spectacular. Not a year that a lot of people will remember and that’s a bit sad sometimes and sometimes you need this extra win. If I had won San Sebastian I would have won the UCI Classic general classification overall. People say maybe it’s a good year, but that’s a difference between opinions.
The win in Montreal
PEZ: In San Sebastian we all watched how Remco Evenepoel won, what were your feelings?
That’s for sure, Remco is a big talent. I’m also impressed by the way he rode last year (2018) because he saw everything he did in the junior worlds, that was his first sighting by the audience, but then you still wonder what he can do as a professional rider and I think if you see his victories this year (2019) it says it all, also European Championships time trial, he beat all those guys on a parcours like that says a lot. Second in the Worlds, then San Sebastian, I think all those things is just an amazing year for him. And I would not put too much pressure on his shoulder. So just let him grow and just see what he can do the next years, maybe second year, a little bit less. But I think he still has a possible big, big future. So I think he is the future of cycling and I hope he does well over the next year. And for me, to be honest, I like to ride against big riders and good talents. It makes my goals a bit stronger and also I’ll be fighting against them wanting to show them I’m still there. So I think it’s part of cycling, different generations coming up. But in the end; good riders are good riders.
Second in San Sebastian
PEZ: What are your thoughts on the arrival of Matteo Trentin in 2020?
I think he is a good signing. I think we did quite well to get him on board. Because you saw me alone in the classics. Sometimes I was up there with 30/40 guys in the final, only me, and that’s hard to manage, I think. So I think this classic squad is really on point, I think we have me and Trentin, who are the two leaders of this team and we have a lot of good riders underneath us that can help us to perform well. So I think the team is really strong Classics and I think outside of this, we still also have to make some improvement. But we have now got Ilnur Zakarin, and some other guys who can climb really well. For the moment, I think the most important thing is finding some balance now in the team, a second year should be better than the first year and I think the signings prove that and I think from now on we can step a little bit higher and higher because the performances also have to be better this year.
Teammates in 2020: Matteo Trentin and Greg Van Avermaet
PEZ: Did you play a role in his arrival to the team?
It’s always a bit of management and riders talk. Of course I’m not 100% making the decisions in this team, but you always say if it’s an okay call or not, I think Matteo is used to ride with good riders in a team and I think we can work well together. For me can be specially in Flanders classics a big role helping me and not to be alone at the crucial moments.
PEZ: How do you see your working arrangements with Matteo as he has a very fast finish, so do you think you will have to attack earlier than before?
Classics are a bit different, I think you know how many Classics come a big sprint. Most of the time it’s one or two guys alone, Gent-Wevelgem is one of the Classics where you can maybe say there is a bit of a hard decisions to make if you want to go earlier. I think in this kind of races I also want to be a in a little bit smaller group and maybe Matteo likes to be with 20 guys in the sprint. So it depends a bit on the race, but I think I’m getting into final with more power than I had before. Then of course also my situation changed a little bit because if you win, like 2017, a lot of races and so in 2018 a lot of riders are just watching me. A lot of times I had the feeling like they went, I react and they went again and they just wait on my wheel. So, it’s a bit of this kind of tactics or however you have to play it, to make a difference.
Tactics on the Arenberg cobbles
PEZ: What are your main goals for the season, the Olympic Games, the Classics?
The Classics are the most important. Classics first because the season is long, and I don’t like to have one objective. One objective, one race like Olympics is really a bit risky to say only this race. I always prefer Classics, and then after the Classics there is time enough to recover and to build up for the Olympics. I think the Tour will also be there because I always preferred San Sebastian a week after the Tour. The biggest thing will be the recovery from jet-lag and travel to Tokyo, because it’s really short, short days. Nobody knows how the body is going to react, but I’m confident I can do it and I’m also not a GC rider at the Tour. So if you see the last three, four stages, I don’t have to go 100% anymore so I can kind of recover in the last stages. Champs Élysées is a sprinter stage, time trial on the Belles Filles, and then I think those three/four days for me are a little bit less stressful than for some GC guys, who will go full to the end. So I’m confident I can still do it, but yeah, the correct solution we probably will only know until after Tokyo.
PEZ: Who would you like with you in the Belgian team for the Olympics?
Well, I think Remco is the only guy who is selected already because he won the European Championships, which gave us a ticket for the Olympic time trial and the time trial guys have to be in the road race also. A bit of an old rule, I think that maybe we should change, because there’s a lot of difference between a time trial rider and road cyclist, also when you compared this parcours, but it is like it is. Remco is there, and of course he is a good rider to also do the road race. Another spot will be taken by another time trialist and then three spots left, I think for riders like me to prove that they can go and obviously I hope to defend my title. For me it’s a bit of a similar parcours as Rio, which probably people say it’s too hard. But yeah, I just want to have a chance to defend my title which is probably my last chance in my career. I want to go there, back to the Olympics.
PEZ: They say the course is more of a battle of attrition than steep. Would you agree with that?
Yeah, I think it’s the last climb is quite stressful and quite hard I think, you know for a rider like me, but Piotr (Wadecki, CCC General Manager) went there and he said it is possible and I think the biggest change in the Olympics is the five man squats where they it’s hard to control. In Rio they wanted to control for Froome, they had Stannard and other strong riders at the front, but they were not able to, so I’m hoping a little bit of the same in Tokyo and only the big countries have five guys then it goes down 4, 3, 2 and 1. So this kind of case, I think it gives more open race. You have to be in the race, maybe at the 20 kilometres to go and that’s gonna make a difference. I’m hoping for this and also in the last part, when you come into the climb, it’s a 10K climb where you still have 30K to go to the finish, which is also a little bit up and down which is really good for me. I think if I’m at 1 minute/30 seconds behind or something, I can still make it to the front of the race and I’m one of the strongest. So all those things you have to consider, but it’s always a bit of a tactical game in the Olympics and it’s quite interesting I think for me.
PEZ: They say it’s going to be very humid, hot, damp conditions, would that suit you?
Yeah, I like it. I’ve show over several years I’m always doing my best performances in good weather temperatures. I felt again in Yorkshire, where I was in good shape and I tried to do my best, but I didn’t come too close to victory. So I was always confident in every big race I won, I was in really good conditions and I think in Tokyo, of course, humidity will be something different from hot temperatures. But yeah, I think I’m quite good in this kind of temperature and actually I’m really looking forward to it.
A wet, wet Worlds
PEZ: Were the Worlds a disappointment?
Sure. Yeah, I think to be honest if it was a good weather day, I had a big chance. When I saw the parcours I really liked it, I thought it was my big chance to be the World champion. I was in good shape, as I showed in Quebec/Montreal. Then some things…. the guys that were in front are really guys who can handle this kind of weather, some are the best and sometimes it’s just also the limit of the human body that the head can say yes, but sometimes it’s just not good enough to be up there. I was seventh and I think I gave everything to do well, but it was not possible to do more.
PEZ: It was probably Brexit that caused it all.
Yeah. It’s a pity because I’ve been many times in Yorkshire, the Tour de France start and everything, it was a bit of pity to see this kind of parcours for the people, not only for the riders but also for the people there. It was not so much fun, but that’s how it is.
The Belgian Olympic team in Rio
PEZ: Will you go to Japan to see the Olympic course?
No, you could do it, but then it’s too much traveling, too much of a time difference. In the end, we have a lot of new technologies where you can see the race and the altitude on paper. In the end, I think it doesn’t make that much of a difference. I didn’t do it in Rio, so I’m also not doing it in Tokyo. I don’t think it’s necessary.
PEZ: Have you received some specific information on the course?
We have some kind of viewer in the team also, where you just see everything, you see the time, you see the gradient, you see the climb, you see the parcours. With Google Earth you can see everything actually, so it’s almost better than being there.
PEZ: With the arrival of Matteo and the other signings, does this put less pressure on you, or do you put pressure on yourself.
Yeah, I put some pressure on myself. You know, this team was a bit built for me and I feel responsible for the results. I know the expectations are quite high also this year, so it’s normal, you know, if you’re a team leader you want to do well. First of all, it’s nice to perform better myself, especially with victories because I thought my levels good enough that last year, but it’s also good to see some extra from your teammates, you know, when you put the TV on, and you see another race where you’re not there, it’s always nice to see a teammate winning, or performing well, in this we missed a bit. I think, last year we had a couple of good races, but also some races that you would not be really aware of us on our TV. But with the signings we made, I think we’ve stepped up a bit again, and hopefully, also made some good young signings for the future. They can also be up there in a couple of years.
PEZ: You mentioned Remco and the new generation coming up, how long to you see yourself at the top?
I think a couple of years. So yeah, I think the way I was always preparing myself over the seasons didn’t change. Okay, there is the age, but there is also experience. I think if you see Valverde or Gilbert, they are still able to perform well. Especially as a classic rider, I think you can have some extra years, especially with Flanders and Roubaix, because you feel more depth in your condition where you can do longer races even better than you when you were young. So on this kind of case, I’m not really worried about my results. Maybe watch changes like short stages and short, explosive things, but this you can train on. So I think I still have a few good years in me and see how far I can go. Also, like I said last year, I’m always performing really well and I don’t feel something has changed in my body for the moment. So I think two/three/four years more for sure I can still have good years in me.
The next generation
PEZ: In cycling there’s an assumption that there is a certain age at which cyclists peak, but do you think that it’s changing with younger cyclists, for example; the Grand Tours with Bernal and Evenepoel in the Classics, that peak may be coming early?
I think there are much more professional than us. Like when I came over to my first year pro I didn’t know anything and I was not training with power meter. I didn’t know how my perform curve was and aerodynamics we didn’t care. If now guys like Bernal and Remco coming over, they even tell you new stuff. They’re on top of everything and yeah, they’re more mature, I think. Yeah, they also have better Under23 teams, where they also go on training camps, where we were just still at home in Belgium in cold conditions. You see now guys from Under23 in November and December already in Spain performing. I think they’re going to have a little bit earlier peaks with maybe shorter careers because also the way they go with on the limits with food and everything, really skinny. I think it’s mentally quite hard, also with altitude training they are away from home a lot. I think I have for myself always find a good balance between home and training and I could perform and that’s why I can also make a longer career, because what I’m doing now I can still do for a few years. I’m not feeling stressed about what I’m doing compared to the other guys and what I what I feel and see that they find it hard to have sometimes a cycling life were they always have to perform and they have to be strict on their nutrition.
Flanders – Not an obsession
PEZ: De Ronde, is it an obsession now?
No, not anymore. No, I think for sure I was hoping every year, I was hoping to win Flanders earlier and I think it was possible, I was close two or three times and had a feeling I could will. But an obsession I would not say. I think overall, I’m super happy with my career. What I received from my career victory wise, I think if you ask me when I turned Pro, and then you see the palmarès that I made, I couldn’t ask for more. But yeah, the ambition has to be there. Of course, it would make my career more successful and I think it’s one of the most important races of the year, and I feel still capable to win it. So we try to do everything.
PEZ: I think it was three or four years ago, you were glad to be at the training camp to get away from home and your first baby. Is it like that this time?
Yeah, actually it is, but it’s been a bit easier because only one week at home and actually the baby’s really the opposite of Fleur. Fleur was a bit stressful and a bit nervous and could not sleep well and Rose for the moment is really quiet and relaxed and not waking up too much. I think it’s like I said before, you know, you have to find the mix between what’s cycling and what’s outside cycling and the balance between. I think this kind of thing show that cycling of course is my main thing also, I like to do my job as well as possible, but you still have a family to look after. Always when I didn’t win or I didn’t get the result that I want and I’m always pissed, but then they call me and then they ask you stupid things and then you realise that there’s something different in life also.
The Van Avermaet family
PEZ: So the question is, do you plan to have children at this time of year?
Phoebe Haymes, CCC press officer: I’d just say thank you to Ellen because we didn’t know if he would be here today. There was a very big chance he would have been flying home yesterday or tonight. The early baby meant he would be here.
Greg: Yeah, it’s not a good time in cycling, I think. I also thought like: ‘ah, December perfect’. And then it came up that the press day would be the 16th of December. So it’s not that great either. But then I was calculating like, there is no way we can get three weeks free and…
PEZ: I was trying to calculate back 9 months before and what race was on.
Flanders. The day before Flanders and then I didn’t perform.
PEZ: I think we all now know maybe what the problem was.
Some things are more important than cycling
# Thanks to Greg for his time and Phoebe for setting it up. #