DE RONDE: "Van Avermaet will never be Boonen"
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) is proclaimed the favourite for Sunday's Tour of Flanders, but “he will never be a rider as Tom Boonen (Quick-Step Floors)”.
Former Belgian cyclist, national coach and current co-commentator for Belgian TV Jose de Cauwer analysed the BMC rider's place in Belgian cycling history.
“He had a very good beginning, but then afterwards he had a few years where he was fighting for a victory. He was always there, but never got a victory,” he said.
In his thirties the Olympic champion then finally turned his talent into gold, literally.
“Now the victories are there and with his 'golden jersey', he is honoured by everyone.
"He is there and he will stay there for another three, four, five years,” said De Cauwer.
Van Avermaet really is in the form of his life.
Earlier this season he crossed the finish line first in the Omloop Het NieuwsBlad, E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem, warding off other favourites such as Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors).
If he manages to reach the finish line first in Oudenaarde, he will be the first rider in history to win all four races of the Flemish quartet in a single season.“I like being the favourite. I don't have to focus on a plan. After a tough race, I can handle anyone in the sprint”
Going into the race as the man to beat does not seem to affect him.
“I like being the favourite.
"I don't have to focus on a plan. After a tough race, I can handle anyone in the sprint,” Van Avermaet said in the pre-race press conference.
Last season was a rollercoaster ride for GVA, with the lowest point a dramatic crash in De Ronde to the peaks of winning the Olympic road race in Rio.
The Belgian has not come off his mountain since.
Though he has never been more in form, the defending champion Sagan is still the favourite according to the bookies, who are offering 3/1 for Van Avermaet to win and 2/1 for Sagan.
Just as much as it will be a thrilling battle, this year's edition is again also a bow-out for one of cycling's greatest classics riders.
Triple De Ronde winner Tom Boonen is saying goodbye to the sport, a year after his epic rival Fabian Cancellara, who also won the classic three times.
Cycling is entering a new era, and Van Avermaet is one of its main ambassadors. De Cauwer believes it's 'new cycling'.
“In the 'old cycling' we didn't ride in front, we waited, looked at each other. Now they go far from the end, and all the way to the finish line.
“If you don't do that, like [Niki] Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors) last week, then you are blocked. It's a new mindset, I like it," he said.
The Sports Gazette has two reporters at De Ronde, follow their coverage on our website, Facebook and Twitter.