While Dutch cycling fans are able to enjoy seeing the latest generation of talent performing well in the Grand Tours, Belgium seems to be producing great riders for the one-day classics time and time again. Greg van Avermaet is without a doubt one of the best riders in today’s peloton. For a long time he had the reputation of not being able to finish major races, but if you look closely at his career, it is nothing less than highly impressive.
Greg van Avermaet made his debut in professional peloton riding for the Predictor–Lotto team in 2007. The Tour of Qatar was his first race. Most riders use their first pro races to learn the ropes. Van Avermaet chalked up his first victory in the fifth stage. It was an excellent beginning to his career and he subsequently finished regularly in the top 10s in mass sprints.
In 2008, he started his first Grand Tour. He had ridden successfully in the Spring of that year, and won in the Flanders Classics. This entitled him to a ride in the Vuelta a España. Realistically, he was just there to fill the peloton. But in the ninth stage he ended up in a group of 12 riders at the front of the peloton. The group included veterans such as Davide Rebellin, Juan Antonio Flecha and Damiano Cunego. Van Avermaet left the astounded riders behind and sprinted to the win: his first Grand Tour stage victory. He continued to ride well throughout the whole of the Tour of Spain and ended it on the podium wearing the blue points jersey.
A career dip for Greg van Avermaet
As often happens in Belgium, as soon as a young newcomer rides a good season he is tipped as the new Eddy Merckx. Suddenly, all eyes are on that rider and he has to learn how to deal with the pressure. All that attention didn’t suit Van Avermaet. He failed to pull major results during the 2009 and 2010 seasons, and was clearly trying to define what type of rider he was.
He made a comeback in 2011. He left the Belgian Omega Pharma–Lotto team, which at the time was concerned primarily with Philippe Gilbert, forcing Van Avermaet into a subordinate role and offering fewer opportunities to ride for his own success. He joined BMC Racing, led by Cadel Evans at the time, and was given more freedom. He won a stage in the tour of Austria and third place in the Clasica San Sebastian. At the end of the season he won his first major classic: the Paris–Tours.
Often on the podium
Greg van Avermaet climbed the podium several times in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. He won a stage in the Tour of Utah and the general classification in the Tour of Wallonia, but it was his near misses which people picked up on. He placed second two years in a row at the Grand Prix de Quebec, third in Gent-Wevelgem and as well as his stage win at the Tour of Utah, he placed second three stages in a row. Van Avermaet was always good, but not convincingly the best. His consistency throughout the seasons always ensured a top-30 position in the year-end World Tour classification.
2016: a record year
Let’s jump forward in time to 2016, the season when he truly proved he was one of the big guys. He had indeed won a stage in the Tour de France in 2015, but in 2016 he hit a winning streak. It began straight away, with the first classic of the season, the Omloop het Nieuwsblad. He then went on to win the general classification of the Tirreno–Adriatico and the fifth stage in the Tour de France. His season had already been a great success by this point. But there was one other race which ensured that his name went into the history books.
Van Avermaet managed to get into the breakaway group during the Olympic Games road race in Rio. He won the sprint, leaving the Dane Jakob Fuglsang and the Pole Rafal Majka behind him and was crowned Olympic champion. He had made it, and bike racing fans will always remember him for that victory.
His first Monument
It was as if a weight had fallen from his shoulders. He began to ride fearlessly, and after the Olympics and victory at the GP of Montreal, he went into the winter with confidence, only to come out of it in even better form. He won the Omloop het Nieuwsblad for a second time. But that was by far the end of it. He also bagged the semi-classics E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem. But his greatest triumph was Paris–Roubaix.
Van Avermaet and a breakaway group of five riders, including Jasper Stuyven, Gianni Moscon, Sebastiaan Langeveld and Zdenek Stybar entered the famous outdoor track in Roubaix. Van Avermaet won the five-man sprint and his first Monument. He carried his good form through the rest of the season (including second place in the Ronde van Vlaanderen) and won the 2017 UCI World Tour points classification, meaning he was the most consistently successful rider in the professional peloton.
2016 and 2017 were clearly the high points in his career to date. He rode well in 2018, but more in keeping with his earlier style: he was top ten in just about every of the one-day classics, as well as the GP of Quebec and Montreal and the Classica San Sebastian. But there were no major victories. In the 2019 season he’s the leader of a new team, CCC. We’re very curious to see what he is capable of with fellow countrymen such as Laurens ten Dam and Simon Geschke riding for him.