Like Philippe Gilbert a year earlier, he has chosen the vineyard paths to close out his fantastic career. This Sunday, Greg Van Avermaet will pin on his final race number at Paris-Tours. This classic race is one of the highlights of his extensive list of achievements, including an Olympic title in Rio in 2016, a Paris-Roubaix victory, and two stage wins in the Tour de France, to name just a few of his most prestigious victories. At the age of 38, the Belgian rider from AG2R-Citroën intends to conclude his career with the brilliance of a great performance, after recovering from a Covid infection that had weakened him upon his return from the Canadian classics.
Born on may 17, 1985 in Lokeren (Belgium)
2006 : Bodysol
2007-2010 : Predictor-Lotto / Silence-Lotto / Omega Pharma-Lotto
2011-2018 : BMC Racing
2019-2020 : CCC Team
2021-2023 : AG2R-Citroën
. 2 stages win in the Tour de France (2015, 2016)
. Olympic champion in Rio (2016)
. Winner of Tirreno-Adricatico (2016)
. Winner of Paris-Roubaix (2017)
. Winner of Gand-Wevelgem (2017)
. Winner of Grand Prix E3 (2017)
. Double winner of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (2016, 2017)
. Double winner of Grand Prix cycliste de Montréal (2016, 2019)
. 11 times wearer of the Yellow Jersey in the Tour de France (3 days in 2016; 8 days in 2018)
11 participations in Paris-Tours
Winner in 2011 / 6e in 2012 / 3e in 2015
©Pressesports Greg, you will hang up your racing number for the last time this sunday between Paris and Tours. A classic that you won in 2011, by the way. What does this victory mean in your career?
It’s really the first major classic I won. I had won races before, but this was different. Paris-Tours is on another level. Winning it made me realize that I could win big races. I’ve always liked this classic, it’s complete, challenging, at the end of the season. There’s a bit of everything, stress, wind, hills towards the end. I’ve always had a good race there. I remember discovering it in the Espoirs in 2006, and I immediately connected with it. I don’t remember much, but I must have finished fourth that time (Editor’s note: he actually finished… second), but I immediately knew it was for me. I won in 2011, I finished third again four years later with a flat tire. It’s really a very beautiful classic that everyone wants to win. Of course, it’s not a Monument or an Olympic title, but it still looks very nice on a palmares. (smile).
Since your victory, the classic has changed, introducing the vineyard paths. Given your profile, and the fact that you’re also competing in the Euro gravel race this Sunday, you must appreciate this new version…
I appreciate it even though it can be quite rough at times, and there are a lot more flat tires. In 2021, I had two or three flats, and the race was over for me. Now, you need the head, the legs, and a bit of luck to win Paris-Tours. I really hope to have it this sunday because I want to finish on a high note. The „punchy“ aspect, the accelerations, the hills that don’t need to be big mountains to hurt, I love that.
So, are we going to see a « fireworks » Greg Van Avermaet in Chartres this sunday?
(Laughs). I hope so. I’ve certainly done everything to be in the best shape. I’m motivated, and if my legs respond, I think I can achieve a good result. Winning won’t be easy, but I want to make an impact one last time on the race. I came back from Canada with Covid and had to take a break. I was disappointed because my condition was obviously affected, but I still have a few days to fine-tune and come back. One thing is certain, I want to stop at a high level. However, I also know that it’s such a tough race that there’s no room for gifts or sentiments. If I’m not in good shape, they won’t wait for me…
‘‘The last race is naturally filled with a lot of emotion. But no nervousness. I’m just happy with my career, happy with what I’ve managed to achieve, and happy to stop when I want to.’’
What do you expect in terms of the race scenario?
A race with movements, with some wind in the first part to tire out the teammates and break the peloton. This gives more chances to the strong riders to stay ahead when the big moves come. That’s how I won in 2011, with a completely scattered peloton. It’s the ideal race, completely wide open… but with my current condition, if it’s a bit calmer, that’s fine too (laughs).
Who do you see as the main favorites?
Fast guys, „punchy“ riders who know how to finish the job with a good sprint. Sprinter-punchers like Arnaud Démare, for instance. The new European champion Christophe Laporte or Arnaud De Lie also are into this category.
Will there be a touch of emotion or, on the contrary, excitement for the last race of your career on sunday?
Not much stress in any case, even though it will obviously be a very special moment. I’ve been racing for seventeen years as a pro, and thinking that it’s the last race is naturally filled with a lot of emotion. But not nervousness. I’m just happy with my career, happy with what I’ve managed to achieve, and happy to stop when I want to. It’s the right decision, and I won’t go back on it. I’m getting older, and I can tell myself, „Well, it was good“ (big smile). I still love cycling, and I’ll continue to ride, but now, it’s for me. Not with the idea of getting results. I think my mind still wants it, but my legs don’t. On Sunday, after an emotionally charged day and, I hope, a great Paris-Tours, I’m going to take a break. Take a lighter year and enjoy time with my family.