Image courtesy of Tim de Waele/Getty Images
By now Greg Van Avermaet would have completed his seventh Tour de France, flown to Tokyo to try and defend his Olympic title before preparing for the World Championships in Switzerland. Little did he and other riders expect that they’d be riding Strade Bianche in August, the Tour de France in September, the 2020 games delayed by a year on top of a Paris Roubaix in October.
And here we are, a season that’s not normal and will go down as unusual. We’re all anxious that a new rescheduled calendar can go as far as November but for now it’s good to see cycling back.
For Greg Van Avermaet himself indeed every rider and fan, it’s a welcome sight to see cycling back despite new protocols, wearing face masks and socially distanced interviews. The Olympic champion’s last race before the pandemic was Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and five months later he will be at the restart tomorrow for Strade Bianche.
“I’m really excited. I think everyone has been looking forward to this moment for a long time. We’re finally racing again which is why we have been training and preparing. The calendar is really challenging because it’s so busy so it’s really important to keep a good condition the whole time. I’m definitely aiming to win a big classic, a Monument, but all of the races I’m doing are really important so I would like to win any of them.”
The Belgian has had a relatively decent start to 2020. 20th overall at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana back in February, 13th place overall at the Volta ao Algarve later that month and then he managed to complete two Belgian one-day races in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.
Tomorrow will see his tenth career appearance at a race he’s as runner-up twice in 2015 and 2017. There’s every chance with every rider’s form unknown that Van Avermaet could go one better and win the 14th edition.
“A race like Strade Bianche is really special and for me, it’s one of the nicest races of the year so I’m really looking forward to it. I always want to do well here but, of course, it’s a bit of a different situation now than in March. Without having any races leading into it, you don’t know where you stand. But everyone is in the same situation.”
On top of coronavirus safety measures, this weekend’s race has an added challenge in hot Tuscan weather in August. Blazing heat and stonier gravel is one concern and problem each rider will have to face.
“It’s going to be really hot so that’s going to be a shock for everyone I think. I have been in Livigno at altitude so it was much cooler there but normally, I prefer to race in warmer weather than the cold so hopefully it will suit me more. The strade looks a little different now than it does in March. It’s more stoney than what we are used to so we’re going to ride 28mm tires with lower pressure which should allow us to go a bit faster. But it’s a great race to do and I think everyone will be excited to be at the start line.”
With the season halted, riders involved in virtual racing and only training to get race miles in the tank, the form of each and every rider might be hard to tell. Everybody arrives at Strade Bianche without a clue as to who will perform the strongest. Current cyclocross sensation Mathieu van der Poel starts as favourite even though it’s his debut and defending champion Julian Alaphilippe is ready to restart his season.
Since starting his first Strade Bianche back in 2010, Greg Van Avermaet has only finished outside the top twenty once – 34th in 2018. Winning races is a lottery and there are so many individual stars to pick out.
“I think it is the same guys who are always good here who will be the favorites; Kwiatowski, Fulgsang, Alaphilippe, van der Poel, Van Aert. Those guys are really good on the gravel so they’re the guys who will probably be up there again tomorrow”.
A compressed calendar means priorities for some riders might chop and change. Peter Sagan has kept to his word by committing to riding the Giro d’Italia, Romain Bardet has yet to decide the same and a new rescheduled Olympic date for Tokyo, gives Greg Van Avermaet and others more time to prepare.
Riders are also unsure as to where they’ll be in 2021. Sponsorship and season transfers are up in the air, nobody knows what the future holds for cycling because of Covid-19. For Van Avermaet, the departure of CCC as sponsor for his team, the future looks unpredictable.
“For now, I am leaving all my options open. I’m still confident in the team to find a new sponsor but, of course, I’m also looking to other teams to go to if it doesn’t work out. I’m waiting on some news from Jim Ochowicz to see if we can find something and if it’s not possible, of course I will go somewhere else. But for now, I’m concentrating on racing again and then we’ll see.”
CCC Team for the 2020 Strade Bianche: Alessandro De Marchi, Simon Geschke, Jonas Koch, Michael Schär, Greg Van Avermaet, Gijs Van Hoecke, Nathan Van Hooydonck