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Rodez - France - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing Team) - Peter Sagan (Team Tinkoff Saxo) pictured during le Tour de France 2015 - stage 13 - from Muret to Rodez on fryday 17-07-2015 - 198.5 KM - photo VK/NV/PN/Cor Vos © 2015

PEZ Chat: BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet

Every year we catch-up with Greg Van Avermaet at the BMC training camp in Spain and this past year was up and down for the man from Lokeren. Lots of podium places, a doping scandal, a new baby and a Tour de France stage win, plenty to talk about.

Tour de France 2015 - stage 13
Peter Sagan 2nd to Greg Van Avermaet in stage 13 of the 2015 Tour de France

PEZ: What was the high point of your season?
Greg Van Avermaet:
My high point, for sure was the Tour de France stage, for me it was a big fight to win that stage in the Tour. I was close in the Classics with three times podium and for me, winning a stage in the Tour is as good as it can get. The year before I was pretty close in Sheffield and close to the yellow jersey and this year was kind of the same, I was third on GC and just couldn’t make it for yellow and so I tried to win a stage, for me winning in Rodez was the high light.

PEZ: How did 2015 compare to other seasons?
It went pretty well. For me it was my best season so far. Last year (2014) was very good also and I raced well in every race, and this year I stepped it up again. I was even more there and I think I had results in all the races that suited me, I was there and performing pretty well. I was second in Flanders the year before and in 2015 I was third and also in Roubaix, for me the Classics are most important and it went pretty well this year, just I couldn’t finish it off with a nice win. That will be my goal for next year.

PEZ: What does it take to win Roubaix and not be second?
A little bit of luck I think. I feel that it is totally in me, that I’m strong enough to win big races and I’ve proved that I can do it. In the Classics there is always the chance that things go wrong and you don’t have so many chances either, only four or five chances a year, so I think it is a case of a little bit of luck whether you win a big Classic or not.

PEZ: So you don’t think there is anything you need to improve on?
No, I think I’m where I need to be, other years I think I could say I needed to improve on this or that, but this year I have proven that I am strong enough to win a lot of Classics, but I just didn’t win yet. For me now the goal has to be to win more races and some Classics.

PEZ: Does this put a lot of pressure on you?
For myself I have a lot of ambition and I will not be happy if I don’t not win a Classic next year. Because you are an athlete you want to have big wins and for the moment thats not happening. It was a good year and I’m happy with it and I consider it a really good year, but you always want to go for the best. For a Classics rider like me, to finish the season without a Classics win is not 100% perfection. I need to win a Classic.

PEZ: What about Belgian media pressure, does that affect you?
It doesn’t affect me, but it’s there, so in one way it’s good that it is there and it doesn’t block me, I don’t think. I have the same ambition as them, (the press); they say I should win a Classic and I say that also and we will see if I can do it.

Ronde van Vlaanderen 2015 special
All of Belgium wants a win form Van Avermaet

PEZ: Do you think BMC are as strong as Etixx or Trek or the other Classics teams?
For sure. We are at the same level I think. Etixx may have a few strong riders, but we also have a strong team. Maybe we don’t have the big names who have won Classics, but I think we have the potential to be as good as they are. This year we are going to be better I think, we are going to have Phinney back. For me it’s a really strong team that has raced together for a few years, so that gives more confidence that they believe in me and they know me and where I have been and that I have stepped up to be a team leader. I’ve always had a good feeling with the Classics team, we believe in each other and they have that confidence in me.

PEZ: How did you get through the doping case at the start of the year. That must have been hard?
Yeah, that was pretty hard. I never expected to be in this kind of position, so it was pretty hard to handle it. I was cool and I knew what had happened and I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, but I never expected to be in this sort of storm and at one point it was hard because I had to get over it and get back to racing as they announced it just before the Classics. It was not that easy, but I proved that and had my best spring ever and for that you have to have confidence in yourself and have the hope that everything will come right. I had nothing to hide and for sure the truth would come out and that’s how it went.

PEZ: That period between the accusation and being cleared, you must have been worried that there was something you didn’t know, a ‘what if’ situation?
You cannot always be sure 100%. In this situation you are wondering if something will come around or something. But in the end I knew what I had done, I fought in the right way in this case and this helped me to focus more on racing and in the end it didn’t affect me much and at one point it was good that I kept on racing and focus on that, and that helped me.

Paris-Roubaix 2015
So close in Roubaix

PEZ: What sort of legacy will Tom Boonen leave when he retires?
I have quite a close relationship with Boonen, we are both Belgian guys and I have raced a lot with him on the National team. For me he was already at the top level when I turned pro and he is always someone I will look up to. I still feel when I’m racing with him, like in Richmond, that it is something special because he means so much to Belgian cycling and for the last 10 years he has been the top Belgian guy. For sure when he leaves he will leave a big hole and for sure I cannot compare myself with him because I don’t have the same palmarès. It is really nice that I have been part of his career, and I can try to fill that hole.

PEZ: Will it be you, Kristoff, Sagan and Degenkolb who will fill that hole?
I think we are on the same level. Before we had Fabian and Tom, but then the last two years were a little different as they missed the Classics period. This year will be the same as last year, I think Sagan, Kristoff, Degenkolb and Terpstra will all be there at the Classics, so they are the guys you have to follow or maybe do my own attacking. I always try to ride my own race and see how far I go and not look at the others.

PEZ: Would you say you are in the same position as you were this time last year?
It’s hard to say because it’s just small details, I don’t think I make big steps anymore, I just prepare myself pretty well, as always. Maybe I’m a bit more in shape as I have been careful with my food and I’ve had a baby, so I’ve had a little bit more stress at home, so this helps not to put on too much weight. Training went pretty well, for me the December camp is something to come to and if you are healthy you train a little bit, but January for me is always the month were I put a lot of base work in and I try to train hard to be ready for the season. For the moment everything is going well and I have a lot of confidence after last year. I was always there, and that has given me more strength to be there again for the Classics.

Greg Van Avermaet  met dochter Fleur
Greg with Fleur

PEZ: With having the new baby was it difficult to come to the training camp and leave home?
Well, actually I was happy to leave home. It was a really hard time at home, I couldn’t sleep at all, she’s really active and so I was really happy to leave home. It was nice, but you have to do so much more at home and I was really tired every day. Here on the training camp we have busy days, but it is also nice to relax in your room and you don’t hear anybody, so I try to take advantage of this. I will be happy to go home also, but I could stay a few days longer.

PEZ: Which opponents would you say are going to be your big opponents in the future?
Sagan. I would say my victory in the Tour de France against Sagan made a nice photo, to see him second to me, especially as he is now World champion. It’s always nice to beat those guys and in a finish that suited him, I think it will be him who will step up as he is such a strong rider. On every parcour he is a great bike handler and he is so hard to beat, he also sprints really fast. For me he is one of the guys who will be there for a long time at a high level and it’s always nice to beat such a guy.

WK in Richmond - Roadrace men elite 2015
Qatar, not a Classics course like Richmond

PEZ: Will you go to the Olympics?
I’m considering going to the Olympics, I have spoken to the Belgian coach and it will be pretty hard. I’ll have to see. The Classics are my main goal and I’ll probably go to the Tour again. Olympics will be hard to win, so you have to consider if it is worth it to do all the traveling and to be up there. Qatar is also not the best circuit for me, otherwise I would say no and focus on the Worlds, but now it’s a difficult year. So the Classics will be the most important and then I will see how it goes and try to plan my year, but the Olympics are 50/50 at the moment.

PEZ: Do you think that the Worlds in Qatar is a pure sprinters course?
Yeah, but there will be quite a few kilometers in the wind and at 260 – 270 kilometers it will be hard to stay in front. When you get to the local parcour in the Corniche there, with all the buildings, you don’t feel the wind anymore so it will be hard to split up. It’s not like Richmond with a Classics parcour, so I can’t really focus on the Worlds. At the end of the season I will focus on the Classics, like Montréal and Plouay, that kind of thing as they suit me also.

Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal 2015
Montréal action

PEZ: Valverde says he wants to ride the cobbled Classics this year, do you think he stands a chance of doing well in those races?
Yeah, I think so. Valverde is in the hard category, if he focuses on something he can be up there, if he has a chance to win. It will be hard, I think, because we are specialists on cobbles in Classics, but I think he will be there for sure. He will be there at the final, but he won’t have the knowledge of the parcour at Flanders and that will be his main disadvantage, but his capacities are really good for this. He’s climbing a little bit better than me, but I’m a little bit better on shorter climbs. He is the kind of rider who has the characteristics that he can put Flanders on his list and he will be there and I think it showed in the Dwar Doors Vlaanderen last year, it is not such a hard race and so he will be good after 260. So for me he is one of the guys who will be in the top ten. Valverde is the best rider in the World, at the moment.

PEZ: Cancellara has said he is not interested in using disc brakes, what do you think?
No, I think it is too early. If you are going for the win in Flanders or Roubaix it’s too risky to race with these wheels and for me it’s the same, I don’t want to use them. They might make a change in cycling, but the top guys will not ride with them in the Classics, maybe some other guys in the peloton might ride them to test them out. Also with the electronic shifting, I was the first guy who tried it out in Roubaix and it didn’t work, when I was a domestique. So I don’t want take the risk.

PEZ: Have you tried disc brakes?
I tried it on my cyclocross bike, it’s a little bit different, but I think there is a lot of evolution going on and if the disk brakes come it will not be the disc brakes we have now, I think they will make it smaller, once it is more advanced it will be smaller, there will not be these big rings on bikes. For a bike company, like BMC, it’s quite exciting to improve it, as at the moment it’s not on a high level, but maybe in a few years we will all be riding disc brakes.

PEZ: You don’t want to ride them because of safety or crashing?
For me at this point I don’t want to ride them. The system has to be lighter and make it easier to change wheels and I think we have to make it smaller, at the moment it’s a big piece on the bike. Maybe once it is better it could be a good thing to use, but we need to wait to see if it is right.

PEZ: Do you think the UCI have cleared the use of disc brakes too soon, should they have waited another year?
Yeah, maybe. It depends which brands are really going for it and how far they go for it I think. At BMC they are seeing how far they can go and we are in a testing faze. I know Campagnolo were already doing electronic shifting in 2007, but it only came out on the market in 2011 or 2010, I think. So there is still three or four years to see how it’s working and see if it is getting better. For sure in the end people will use it.

Tour de France 2015 - stage 4
Close again to John Degenkolb, Tour’15 stage 4

PEZ: How is your foot problem these days?
I changed shoes and I’m now riding Rocket7’s from the US, I was riding them last year and that’s going pretty good, but this period is always a bit tricky as it always gets a little bit worse, it’s not different like other years, so it should be okay for the rest of the year.

PEZ: Will it be a problem for the rest of your life?
Probably when I stop cycling it will be okay. I spend so much time in a sports shoe and to have so much pressure when I put the power down, thats most of the problem. Bad roads also cause friction, so maybe when I stop cycling it will be over. It’s pretty good, I can handle it, most of the time it doesn’t bother me, but it is always something that’s in your head, when you wake up you always have a look at it. Some guys have knee problems, other guys have this and that, this is my problem.

PEZ: For the Rocket7’s they make mould of your foot?
Yes, they have a mould and so it is totally hand made. They made the first mould in 2013 when I was there for the Tour of California and then this year when I was there for the Worlds in Richmond, they made a new mould. It’s a good shoe especially for a rider like me with problems with their feet, I think it’s the best shoe you can get, it’s really customized. I’ve tried every manufacturer to make a customized shoe, but it was a big problem, now with Rocket it’s the best option. The friction I get between the Achilles and my foot gets some infections and sometimes the foot gets bigger and I get more pressure on the foot. It’s always something I have to be careful with, but at the moment it’s pretty good and under control.

Tour de France 2015 - stage 14
Pushing the break in the 2015 Tour

PEZ: Will you ride the Tour and what do you think of the first week?
Yeah. I’m on the list and I will try to go, like every year we have to fight for our position, so it’s not a clear thing. But like last year I will try to focus on the Tour and I will try to be there, especially with my victory last year I hope I can go. The parcour doesn’t suit me as much as the last two years, I really liked it in the UK with that Sheffield stage, it was really nice for me and then we had the cobbled stage. Last year also, the first few stages were perfect for a Classics rider like me. This year is a little bit different I think, less chances. The second stage has quite a hard climb at the end, it will not be easy to beat those guys, but there are three or four chances and I’ll try to go for those ones.

PEZ: There are a few sprinters stages at the start. Do you think that is a good thing, because they haven’t had much the last few years?
For me it’s not that good. Every rider wants to have a race that suits them, so I’m not that excited about that, but the sprinters will be happy as they have more chances, but for they guys like me who have more of a punch, it’s not so good. It’s only the organization who can make these choices and I think it is nicer for the spectators, the sort of finishes that we like to go for.

PEZ: What is your early schedule?
I start with Qatar, Oman, Nieuwsblad, Kuurne and then I do Strade Bianchi, Tirreno, Milan-Sanremo, then probably E3, Gent-Wevelgem, Flanders, Roubaix, Amstel. Kind of the same as every year, I try to do. Amstel is always a hard race, it’s a Classic. Mentally it’s hard because you are always fighting for position, that’s also the hardest bit about Flanders, the fight for position or otherwise you get nowhere.

PEZ: What would you do between Amstel and the Tour?
I think maybe California and probably Dauphine or Suisse, one of the two. It’s a pretty good program I think and hopefully I can take some wins.

With luck, 2016 could be the year of the big Classic win for Greg Van Avermaet.

Tour de France 2015 - stage 13
Beating Peter Sagan

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