• Greg van Avermaet at the 2018 Tour of Oman (Getty)Source: Getty
Greg Van Avermaet is the Matt Damon of cycling, a Jason Bourne assassin on the bike and a nice guy off it. The reigning Paris-Roubaix champion is ready once again to unleash his killer skills at the spring classics.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
23 Feb 2018 - 9:22 AM  UPDATED 23 Feb 2018 - 10:39 AM

According to Belgian press, the national hero rarely says no to an interview, even now as he prepares for the classics, starting in earnest with a title defence at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad tomorrow.

The BMC Racing communications team diligently manages Van Avermaet, who is well rehearsed but has a healthy dose of humility that undermines his stature, on a meteoritic trajectory since victories at the 2016 Rio Olympics and Paris-Roubaix last season.

Fame can be a fickle thing; some athletes indulge in it while for others the scrutiny proves detrimental to mental fortitude and consequently performance.

Van Avermaet interprets it as positive reinforcement and, speaking with a small group of international cycling journalists at the Tour of Oman, is level-headed, even though he now rarely arrives at sign-on without being surrounded by a moving rugby maul of media and fans.

“I think it came from the Olympics, and a step extra after last year’s spring campaign,” he says.

“It’s normal to deal with it. If you see a lot of journalists it’s a sign your condition is good and a lot of people are interested to see what you have to tell.”

There are times when the 32-year-old prefers not to speak about cycling, specifically when he is with his two-year-old daughter.

“At the moment, I like to be with my family in Belgium. If we go to a restaurant and people start talking about cycling when my daughter is next to me I don’t like it that much,” he says.

The reigning Gent-Wevelgem champion is quick to counter that observation though with good measure.

“It’s not like it’s too much, people are just friendly. I appreciate that they say, ‘we enjoyed your Roubaix win’, or, ‘I got goosebumps when you won the Olympics’. This you have to feel as a kind of gift, that they say this to you, and you have to try to manage it.

“In the end, it’s not like I’m Cristiano Ronaldo, who cannot come out of his door I can imagine. I’m famous, but a small bit in the world so it’s not that much.”

Van Avermaet will be a key player in the cobbled classics this season with titles to defend and the impetus to go one better than his runner-up finish at the Tour of Flanders last year.

2017 Tour of Flanders

Few for the moment have drawn him on matters past the classics, but the Olympic road race gold medalist is again due to compete at the Tour de France.

The Tour course features pavé that works to the strengths of Van Avermaet, who will also again be tasked with supporting Australian Richie Porte in his next title bid.

“He takes pressure off me for sure because he’s the leader in the Tour de France, not everybody is asking me the questions. Also, I can help him if I win a stage and he can have a quiet day sometimes,” Van Avermaet says.

“There are a few good stages for me again … three or four chances in three weeks is not a lot but we will try and take it. For a classics rider, it’s not always that easy because sometimes you sit in the peloton and wait for the day to come but I think we take every chance, you have to try and take.”

Van Avermaet, after Het Nieuwsblad, will race Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on Sunday, adopting a different tact to some of his rivals, like Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe), who have chosen to pass in favour of altitude training.

“To skip races like Nieuwsblad and Kuurne is hard for me because it’s my home country, it’s also a WordTour race and if you count the chances we have it’s not that much. You have fix or six races you have to do, where you really have to perform as a leader,” he says.

Astana throws a one-two at Tour of Oman
Astana flicked its rivals on stage five of the Tour of Oman yesterday, swamping Green Mountain to deliver Miguel Angel Lopez to line honours and Alexey Lutsenko the race lead.
Van Avermaet strikes back on Tour of Oman Stage 3
Greg Van Avermaet put spring classics rivals on early notice by claiming his first individual and second victory of the season at the Tour of Oman yesterday.

As far as racing goes, Van Avermaet has had a strong start to the season. He was part of the squad that claimed the team trial at the Tour of Valencia, and last week won a stage at the Tour of Oman where lost the points classification only on the last day.

“For me the most important thing is racing. I’m a guy who gets better with racing and the best training for me is efforts where you can build your shape, which is hard to do in training

"This way is the best and I hope the results will stay the same,” he says.

Watch Greg Van Avermaet at the Tour of Flanders (1 April) and Paris-Roubaix (8 April) LIVE on SBS. (Times and channel TBA)