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HARELBEKE, Belgium (VN) — The E3 Harelbeke victory was not needed, but gladly welcomed. Greg Van Avermaet says that this Belgian trophy will boost BMC Racing’s morale heading toward the one-day monuments.
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The Belgian astutely marked attacks by Quick Step’s Tom Boonen and Philippe Gilbert over the Taaienberg and beyond, and rode away with the latter. The two ditched their other rivals on the Oude Kwaremont and rode into the final 35 kilometers with only fellow Belgian Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale) for company.
“It’s not a monument, but it’s a nice win,” Van Avermaet said. “I was only on the podium once in 2008; that says enough. Every year, I come back with high expectations, and I wanted to win here.”
“Golden Greg” as the Belgians call him after his Olympics win in Rio de Janeiro last August, rode to the pressroom on a silver BMC bicycle. He leaned it on a nearby wall and climbed on a small podium to speak with journalists.
He smiled under his dark eyebrows. The mood easily eclipsed that along the Italian coast in Milano-Sanremo last weekend, when BMC lacked options while rival teams moved their various chess pieces.
“It was much better than Milano-Sanremo. That was bit of disappointing. Only two guys after the Cipressa, and I made a mistake not to be there at the bottom of the Poggio,” Van Avermaet said.
“Daniel Oss was there today, he’s a strong guy. I believe in him, he’s just has to show it.”
Van Averment already had a strong showing this year. He won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad cobbled classic in late February in Belgium and placed second to Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) in Strade Bianche in Italy before Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-Sanremo.
“The win helps today, but the guys know that I’m good. It’s not that they have to say it 10 times,” Van Avermaet said.
“When you win, the team gets stronger and more confident. It’s good to start [the monuments] with confidence. They known I’m ready, when the team leader is strong, the helpers are strong.”
BMC Racing rode a similar big wave toward the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and Paris-Roubaix in 2016, but that crashed when five of them fell in Ronde. Van Avermaet broke his collarbone and, there on the driveway of a Belgian’s home, pulled the plug on his classics campaign.
This year, the wave appears stronger and able to carry through the following two weeks. The classics men race Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, and then on the two following Sundays, the monuments, Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix.
Young teammates like Silvan Dillier, 26, and Loïc Vliegen, 23, will truly sense the team’s power after Friday’s ride to Harelbeke, just about 50 miles west of Brussels.
In the race’s final kilometers, Van Averment rode toward the town with former teammate Gilbert and his training partner Naesen. Naesen began the sprint, Van Avermaet reacted and held off Gilbert.
“It was nice to be riding with Phil. We are the same type of rider. It wasn’t easy to make the right decision in the team [together] sometimes, but you see today Phil is a big champion. He gives it all when he rides with you, 100 percent. If he was riding in my team, I couldn’t jump after him, but I could today,” said Van Avermaet.
“It wasn’t that fun when Gilbert attacked on the Tiegemberg [at 20 kilometers to race]. I really had to fight to stay with him there.
“But it was special to be in that three-man group with a former teammate and a friend, plus I train with Oliver [Naesen] everyday — we do sprints together every day.”