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PEZ Talk: Greg Van Avermaet

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Rider Interview: Greg Van Avermaet has come so close to the big win in the cobbled Classics, will this be his year? We caught up with the non-beer drinking Belgian at the BMC training camp to talk Classics, cobbles, Tour, beer and Yorkshire!

Greg Van Avermaet has had some good wins in his 10 year professional career and he has a sack full of top ten placings, apart from his win in Paris-Tours there isn’t that big Classic win. He wants to be King of the Flanders cobbles, but the man from Lokeren can turn his hand to just about any of the one day races.

PEZ: Are the Classics going to be different this year, will it be the end of the Cancellara/Boonen domination and will you make your mark?
Yeah I think so, I think I was pretty close this year. I’m always making small progressions every year and the gap is definitely getting closer and closer. Hopefully I can win a big Classic, last year I was already close in Flanders and we will see how it goes. I’m just going to prepare myself as well as possible and then for sure I can beat those guys also.

vanavermaet-wallonie14-620A win in Wallonie ’14

PEZ: Have you changed your preparation in anyway for this year?
I started the same almost; maybe a little earlier with training but in the end there wasn’t so much difference. I think my year was really good so I didn’t want to change anything about my training or my racing program. Overall its all going to be the same and also my training is going pretty well and there are no big problems.

PEZ: Have you been working on anything?
I want to improve my sprint for sure. I lost a few sprints last year and…yeah I was second a few times and it would be good if I can hit the first spot. That has been one of my working points for sure; sprinting and the power when I’m sitting, I have to improve there, especially on the cobbles.

PEZ: How do you do that, on or off the bike training?
A bit of both, a combination. I was working on my fitness in the winter, three times a week in the gym to improve my maximum power, but then it’s a bit different if you are inside, it’s not a real feeling of sprinting, like the feeling of sprinting on the bike. It’s pretty hard to do it in training because in the peloton or in a group you can be quite close. But in training with two or three riders you have more space everywhere. So its always hard to have the same feeling as a race, but we have been doing a few sprints in training. I’m not the fastest guy in the peloton, but in a hard race I still have the power at the end and that is also my strength I think.

Paris - Roubaix 2013Those Roubaix cobbles

PEZ: Will there be any conflict between you and Philippe Gilbert?
No, not really. The plan is to do the same races as last year, so we will not be racing together that much. Of course we will do Het Nieuwsblad and Sanremo together. I think we have a good relationship and like you saw in the Worlds, he worked for me and I worked for him in Amstel. It’s always good to have two riders in the front group and then we can play our cards.

PEZ: Do you know your calendar?
I’m planning on all the cobbles, the first part with Flanders and he is doing the other part with Amstel, Flèche and Liege. I will also go to Amstel again like I did last year, that worked out pretty well. So I think we have a good program, for both of us and we are ready for the season.

PEZ: Do you know what you will do after the spring?
It’s hard to tell because for me always the spring is the most important part of the season and I focus on this and then after I’m looking a little bit to what is left. But I think I’m going to try to do the same as last year, the Worlds are going to be a focus for me again because Richmond will be a good parcour for me, it’s more kind of Flemish style, so I will look to be good there, the rest I will have to figure out.

PEZ: The Worlds course will suit both you and Philippe.
Yeah, I think it’s going to. I only heard a little bit about the course; it has cobbles and short climbs, so it’s perfect for me and for sure I’m going to try to prepare myself as well as possible. It’s not every year you have a chance like this and I will try to be up there.

PEZ: I think we had the same conversation last year?
Yeah that’s true. I’m the kind of rider who can do a lot, I can climb pretty well, I can sprint pretty well, also on flat stages I’m pretty good so I have a lot of opportunities, but still there can be differences. At Firenze it was a bit too hard for me and then at Ponferrada it was a really good course for me and Qatar will be a little bit different, so I hope to be good in Richmond.

PEZ: Do you focus more on one race than the others?
Flanders is always my goal, but I want to be good in Sanremo. I think if you are well prepared you have to be there ready and then I can keep it going to Roubaix and Amstel.

PEZ: Last year your climbing seemed to have improved, was that something you have worked on, maybe with victories in short stage races in mind?
I always like the Tour of Belgium and in those kind of races I like to go for GC, but the others like Paris-Nice and Tirreno are to hard for me, so I always focus on the Classics and then, like this year, I went to the Tour. I try to do something about my weight and if I’m a little bit lighter I can go pretty well up hill and I could maybe also be a contender in Liege. But no, my main focus is on Flanders and then sometimes it’s better you are a little bit heavier, like one or two kilos heavier, so you have the strength and the power to attack on the small climbs. For the Tour I lost some weight as the team had asked me to be ready for the first week and you could see that I can climb pretty well.

greg_van_avermaet650Amstel, not his type of race, but he’ll give it a go

PEZ: Was your long attack in Flanders last year part of the plan?
That was a strange day because it was the first time that I had leadership on my own, so there was a lot of pressure on me because I had to really fight for that position in a race I wanted to win. I still remember the second time on the Pattersberg when I punctured and I thought my race was over, I took the wheel from Klaas Lowdewyck and then there was a fight back to get to the front with a lot of help from my teammates who came to me at the right moment. When I got to the first group, I had lost so much energy I though I had better just go for it. It was just my intuition, I went for an early attack and I think it was a good choice.

PEZ: The finish didn’t go your way, was that frustrating?
Yes, it was frustrating that Vandenbergh did not ride with me, I think if he had ridden with me we would have gone to the end and would have won Flanders. For me it’s a pretty big thing to win Flanders and everything went a little bit wrong at that moment, but that was team tactics and I can also understand Quick-Step as they had Stybar, Boonen and Terpstra behind. They were not sure of Vandenbergh so that was tactical racing. That’s the way it goes and you cannot change anything.

PEZ: Does that give you more motivation for this year?
I think it’s an extra motivation. I think, it’s my kind of racing that I always do, and to be up there in the most important races and decide the races with attacks is something you always dream of as a cyclist and so it gives me motivation for this year to do better and to win. Last year I was pretty close to win a big event, so I want to do that in 2015.

PEZ: Do you feel that your biggest competition in the cobbled Classics will come from the ‘Old Guard’ of Boonen and Cancellara or will it be the new guys, like Degenkolb and Vanmarcke?
I think it’s going to be both, everybody. It depends on how everyone is going with their preparation and if they have no crashes. I think it’s going to be a nice Classics season because nobody is really topping the list and there will be quite a few guys contesting the races. That’s what really marks the Classics as being special and they always look good on TV, there is always something happening and there are a lot of riders who can win, that is nicer for the cycling fans.

TDFR 2014 - stage -9Fighting it out with Cancellara at the end of stage 9 of the Tour ’14

PEZ: Do you think the two new climbs in Flanders will make a difference?
No, not really. I think you have to stick to the same plan as always. Now there are extra climbs because the Berenderies is open, there were some works going on, it’s at the beginning and at the end. OK it always counts on the body, but it’s not that important for the final and in a way I’m happy they kept the final of last year. I think they have to build a tradition and not change every year. I think if you saw the race last year there are more opportunities than the year before and they should stick to the parcour that the people really know. That is very important.

PEZ: You’ve been so close to a big win, is that enough for you?
No, I really want to win. I want to have a big win, that would be the highlight of my career. I have a good career but not the biggest one, so yeah it’s always the goal to win the big races. I’ve been waiting pretty long for it, since my win in Paris-Tours. That is kind of different from carrying of a win in Flanders, Roubaix or Sanremo; those are the kind of races you dream of and I would love to win a race before May, that would be pretty good.

PEZ: How important is an early season win?
Yeah, its very important to have that win early in the year, but also the Tour helped me, it was my first Grand Tour in two or three years, so I came out of three weeks of racing with some extra power and also from the Eneco Tour. I’m always like this, after the first win it’s getting easier. It’s hard to say, but it must be mental but also there is more confidence about picking the right moment.

PEZ: Is the killer instinct growing within you, as you get older?
It’s strange because when I was in the Under 23’s I was really like a winner. I won the most races in my category and then in my first year as a pro it was still there, but then I lost it a little. I think I’m the sort of guy who is on around five or six wins, but it is hard for me to get this. I still have the killer instinct and I have the capability to take these wins, but sometimes it’s not coming out.

PEZ: Has anything changed in you from the year before?
I now know that I can perform on the highest level in the World. To make the decision in races to attack when others can’t and in the top races I am in the top ten in the World. It’s possible that I can win any one day WorldTour race and that has given me the extra confidence I need to have for 2015 that I have to take the first big win. Now that I have been in the situation of coming close to winning that big race it has become easier as you’ve seen it before and that helps me for next year to make good moves in the right situation.

vanavermaet-620Checking out the Koppenberg before the biggest race on his calendar: The Ronde van Vlaanderen

PEZ: What did you think of the cobbles in the Tour de France?
I was a bit unlucky because I crashed just before the first cobbled section and so I wasn’t in position any more and it was just terrible. If you are not in the first twenty, then it’s a big mess. I had it in mind to take the yellow jersey that day because I was in the top ten for GC and there was only Nibali ahead of me, but he was going pretty well so it would have been hard to get the jersey. If it’s raining and you get in a bad position you see only bad things. It was a big disappointment for me; the only disappointment in the Tour for me was there.

PEZ: Did Nibali impress you on the cobbles?
Yes, for sure. It was something special; he’s pretty light to go as fast as that on the cobbles. I was really impressed by him, but he has good technique and also when descending. He is comfortable on the bike and that is were he has an advantage on the others.

PEZ: Do you think there should be cobble stages every year?
I’m waiting for a Flanders course, which would be nice for me. I like it, but we were a little unlucky with the weather and crashes, it was more hectic before the cobbles than on them. If you ask people what they remember about the Tour, it’s this. So yes, for me they can put them in.

PEZ: What did you think of the start in England and the Yorkshire race coming up this year?
I was really impressed by the scenery and the people. It was a bit crazy and sometimes dangerous, but I really liked it, that was more my kind of parcour with a Flanders style of climbing. It was three amazing days, when we came into France it was like a different race; there were no people at the start and at the finish. I think it was a good move by ASO to put the start of the Tour de France there, with all the spectators it was a good thing for cycling.

I’m taking a few days off after Amstel, so I might come to Yorkshire, as I know the parcour will suit me and it would be good to take a victory there.

PEZ: What do you think about the move of Peter Sagan to Tinkoff-Saxo?
I think he is always going to be up there. He’s a hard guy to beat and that won’t be different with Saxo. They have always had a good Classics squad and now, with Peter, they are even stronger than previous years, he now has stronger teammates around him, he will be one of the contenders in the Classics.

PEZ: How will the retirement of Cadel Evans affect the team?
For sure it’s a big loss because he was always a Tour contender and a big champion, but the team was already preparing for it, Tejay was coming up, kind of like me. He was responsible at the Tour, did pretty well and he’s still young. He can grow with it, but a Tour is pretty difficult to win, he will be good and will get a big win in the Tour. It was time for Cadel to decide he was quitting, but it is a bit strange because he was the first big signing for BMC and now he’s gone.

PEZ: Being Belgian you must have a beer now and again?
I’m actually not a big beer drinker; there are a lot of calories in beer so I am more into eating than drinking. I prefer to take my calories out of food than out of fluid.

No beer for Greg, but maybe he will get the Champagne in Flanders this year.

vanavermaet-interview-620Ready to talk

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