PEZ Talk: Greg Van Avermaet – CCC in 2019
Rider Interview: It’s December and the BMC (soon to be CCC) team is in Spain training for next season, so it must be time to catch up with Belgian Superstar, Greg Van Avermaet. Alastair Hamilton, our man on the Costa Blanca, was at the CCC team launch to hear all about the 2018 season and next year with the new Polish backed team.
Ready for the questions
After a very nice lunch prepared by the team chefs, without wine this year, we sat down to chat about the changes in the team, the Tour, his future, the Olympic Games and… sock hight.
How are you feeling going into the 2019 season?
Greg Van Avermaet: I feel pretty good, yeah. I’ve had a long rest because I stopped after the Worlds, I didn’t do Lombardy or anything, China, and that gave me a little bit of extra time to recover. And now we are back, already with a good base of training, for the moment that is going pretty well, like normal I would say.
Valencia’18: Let’s hope it is warmer in 2019
Do you know your early schedule and the Classics?
Starting in Valencia, then Oman, Nieuwsblad, Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-Sanremo, E3, Gent-Wevelgem, Ronde van Vlaanderen, Roubaix and Amstel. That’s it.
No, I don’t think so. I’ve done it a few times, a few years ago, but then it was not planned to do Liège. I’ll go to Amstel and we will see how it goes. I would say there is a chance I would do Liège also, but for the moment it’s not on the plan.
Tour yellow for Greg in 2018
You had a really strong Tour de France. Is this ‘Greg the Grand Tour rider’ now?
No, not really (laugh). I think the first week of the Tour is always good for the Classics riders, especially for me as I can also climb pretty well and you can survive things like the Mûr de Bretagne and not loose time. From this point, this year, it was really the goal to take yellow as I knew with this BMC team it was a time trial team, so I would be in the GC there. It went perfectly, I took it after the (team) time trial and I could keep it till after Roubaix and an extra day. So for me the Tour was really, really good, just missed out on the stage to Roubaix, then you could have said it was perfect. Also it is my strength, I do Classics, but I also do a little bit more, my season doesn’t end after the Amstel Gold Race.
Was there more pressure to ride well at the Tour because you knew BMC would pull out of sponsorship at the end of the season?
In the Tour you mean? I always put quite a lot of pressure on myself, I think. I didn’t need extra pressure to perform better. I’m always at my best at any time of year, but it was important to find sponsors, because at that moment we were talking to the team, CCC now, so it makes a good impression if you are talking to sponsors and the main leader is in yellow, that always helps a bit.
2nd on the Roubaix stage in Tour yellow
Do you think you can take the yellow jersey in this year’s Tour?
I don’t think so, no. I think it’s going to be hard. With BMC it was possible, now we have to prove ourselves capable again to do good team time trials. Of course the start in Brussels gives motivation and the Muur (van Geraardsbergen) and Bosberg in the first stages are cool and also the stage to Épernay is a good one for me, so I’m going to come close, but the most important thing for yellow is that the team does a good performance and keeps everything close to each other in the time trial and then I have a chance until La Planche des Belles Filles (stage 6), because there I think I will lose time. Then afterwards we have to recalculate how things are going. Two years ago I took the yellow jersey with a break-away, so it’s possible in this kind of way. We have to see how all these things are going to go. I think our first team time trial is in Tirreno again, so we will see if we are capable to compete with the best teams.
Now that Porte, Dennis, Van Garderen and the others have left the team, is there going to be a lot more pressure on you in 2019?
Yeah, that’s for sure, I think so, yeah. At BMC we had three leaders with Richie and Rohan, in different places. Which now I’m going to be the only leader in the team for Classics, so if the Classics period goes wrong now, we are going to have a problem team wise. Previously; Richie or Rohan could still make results and perform, but I’m not scared as I know what I’m capable of and most of the races I’m always there, doing top tens, but it would be nice to win, to take the pressure off and to also launch the team for the whole year.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2017
How do you see the team supporting you next year?
In Classics I think we have a strong team. I don’t see any big difference from this year, I think we have seven or eight really good guys we can put on paper and I think our strength is going to be equal to last year, but like I said it’s going to be harder than last year to fill up the Giro d’Italia and all those other races we have to do. It’s going to be harder for us, but we are going to have a more open road, whereas with BMC we had to control more. For the Classics I don’t see any problems and I think we are going to be really good and they are our main goal, so we are going to have to be good.
Is there a different feeling in the team?
There is a different feeling, but almost all the management is the same, so it feels like I’m still riding for BMC, there are not any big changes. I see a lot of the same faces, we are in the same hotel, which helps also, already eight years we have been here. It’s a big change, but in one way it feels like home also. We have a lot of new Polish people coming, we need time to integrate with the riders, that’s for sure. We have to get to know the new riders and find out what they are capable of, there are some guys I have no idea what they are really like. But everything works well and also the guys like Serge Pauwels (from Dimension Data), he has ridden with Sky and Quick-Step and he says this is such a professional team, everything is turning so well and he is really surprised by the level of this team. I think we have brought this from BMC into CCC and I think with this sponsor we are going to have a good team and a good year.
Greg on the attack in the E3
It must have been a little strange on the first day, walking in here and not seeing the Australians and Americans. Completely different?
Yeah, yeah, it’s completely different. We are walking about with name tags on our chests so we get to know each other. I think this is normal, you come into a new company and learn about the new people you will work with, but I think it has gone pretty well. Everybody is super motivated, the guys that come from CCC will step one level higher and they really want to show themselves at the highest level and I think this can create a good vibe and hopefully this will bring results.
Happy in the same hotel for eight years
Why did you want to stay with this team?
For me the most important thing was loyalty to the team that I had been riding for eight years. The support I got from Andy (Rihs) over the years and all the people around me here, I would not directly leave and go somewhere else. Although I admit it was taking a long time, in my mind I had to know in April or May to make a decision and then go through. It took two months longer, which was not a nice period, but in the end it worked out well for me and also for the rest of the staff. It was just a little bit sad that we couldn’t keep more riders here, if we could have kept maybe two or three extra from BMC, it would have been better, but that’s how it went.
TTT – Tour style
Losing Rohan Dennis for the team time trial…
Yeah, Rohan and the GC guys. Also (Damiano) Caruso and (Dylan) Teuns, who can be capable of doing their own thing and making good results. Also Stefan Küng had possibilities in time trials and Classics, but these are things you don’t have in your own hands and I understand, maybe I would do the same thing if I was 25 or 26 years old. Probably I would do the same, choose a team where you can go. I’m a little bit older and I can relax a little bit more and maybe that make the decision a little bit easier.
Is winning a ‘must’ this spring, or would the team be happy with top ten placings?
For me winning is a ‘must’, it is the most important thing. As a rider you are motivated and you are not thinking of doing a top ten place, you just want to win races. It didn’t work out this year through circumstances, I’m always competitive in every race and I still think next year I can win one or more Classics, it just has to come all good.
Which Classic stands out for you?
It’s quite easy for me, it’s Flanders. I say it every year here and it never comes. It’s the race that fits me the best and I’m always saying Flanders, which is normal I think. I’ve not won it yet and I’ve finished on the podium so many times and I’m so motivated. But with me it’s not easy to make a choice, I’m going to be good from Nieuwsblad to Amstel and in the end if it is one of those races in-between, it’s good also. Let’s try.
Yorkshire podium – Worlds next?
What do you think of the World championships in Yorkshire?
Yeah, it’s a good course for me, the distance is super long and it will be a super hard race – it’s good for me. The problem sometimes is for me in the Worlds is that it is a long season and sometimes there isn’t that extra freshness in the legs to win at the Worlds. But again I’m going to try to do the combination of Classics/Tour, which is important always and try to build up again to the Worlds. Yorkshire, for sure, is a race I love. I’ve raced three times in Yorkshire and it’s a parcours that fits me. Every time I’m there I have good results, let’s hope I can show it in a one-day race there. The atmosphere I’m looking forward to already.
Who do you see as your biggest rivals in the Classics? Any young guys to look out for?
It’s always a bit the same, eh. Some guys disappear one year and then come back, but I think the main guy now everyone is going to say is (Michael) Valgren, he’s won two (Het Nieuwsblad and Amstel in 2018), he’s still young, he’s capable of doing more and he also has the engine to do Liège, so I think he is one of the main contenders, and then I would say everybody else who was up there for many years, already. There are some new guys coming up, but I would really have to look again to see who my rivals are.
Cyclocross? No, Strade Bianche
What about Wout van Aert?
Yeah, yeah, he’s capable I saw last year. Actually I was surprised what he did in Strade Bianche and in the other Classics. It’s a big step from being a cyclocross rider to be a main contender in Classics. Those guys have the engine and can ride a bike.
Mathieu van der Poel is also riding Amstel.
He’s doing every Classic I think, but he has to get the invitations for the races. Amstel won’t be a problem because he’s Dutch, all the rest he will have to wait. But he’s the same, he can do everything and he can also race mountain bike and he’s fast in the sprint so I thing we really have to watch those guys. They are still super young, but most big talents don’t wait long to make results.
They are young, but what about the really young – the next big thing – Remco Evenepoel?
I don’t know him personally, I only read the stories. Everyone saw the Worlds, before you read the stories and then you see him live on TV and everyone is impressed I think. The important thing for this young guy is that he has to keep a foot on the ground and keep on working.
A young Greg Van Avermaet with Eddy Merckx
What do you think of him going straight from Junior to WorldTour?
We’ve had a few guys doing this in the past. Fabian Cancellara did it I think, Pozzato. I’m not a big fan of going directly from 18 to professional, I think maybe it’s too early, but he’s a super talented guy. I could not imagine going from juniors to professional, but he’s going to try and with a good program it’s maybe possible I think. If I was him, I would try to win the Tour de l’Avenir and become the World champion in the Under 23. There are a lot of riders you can do; the Tour of California and everything and then make the step. You are going to be a professional for maybe 15 years and sometimes if you are the best you could become bored, but let’s see what he does and hopefully he can just keep it calm as in think a lot of the journalists and the press in Belgium are going to make him big, this is not easy to handle if you are only 18 years old.
You say “being bored of cycling after a 15 year career” if you are one of the best. Sagan said something similar, do you ever get bored of cycling?
No, because I’ve never been the best! For me it’s different, my career was growing and growing every year, a little bit bigger and bigger and I had to work hard to get were I was two years ago, and that’s a different story I think. I never came over with 10 or 15 victories, I never had this, but I can imagine if you are really dominating the sport it’s hard to keep yourself motivated.
Taking Gold in Rio
It’s a long time ahead, but what do you think of the next Olympic course in Tokyo for 2020?
It’s hard again. I was looking at it because, for sure, I want to go. It’s something special in my career and it’s always nice to go and try to do as good as before, but I think it’s a little bit harder than Rio, it would be on the limit I think. It’s hard to say. I really have to take a good look at it and then make a decision if I am capable of doing this race. They do the test event during the Tour, so it’s hard for me to go there, but we can send some other riders, like we did in Rio. You can have a good idea with everyone riding with Garmin and SRM to see the gradient and the length of the climb and see the altitude, that will give us a good idea what to expect. It will about the same period, just after the Tour, which is good for me because that is the moment that I am most capable of climbing at my best.
Is an Olympic Gold medal the highest thing you can achieve?
Yeah, for me it’s a super special moment and the story that my father also went to the Olympics in Moscow and from when I was a kid he was always talking about it. It was something special that I could go to for my country and I rode full out that day and it was the highlight of my career, sure.
Repeat Gold in Tokyo 2020?
Is the new UCI regulations on sock hight going to be a problem?
Probably not (laughs)! What did they decide? Halfway up the calf or something? In normal cycling it wasn’t a problem, but in time trials some guys were wearing them so long and that’s why I think they made the rule, but for me it’s not the main problem. They say it’s for the aerodynamics, that’s why they do it, not for the look.
The correct sock length