• Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) at the 2019 Tour of Oman (Getty)Source: Getty
Greg Van Avermaet is yet to open his account at the Tour of Oman but took confidence from his performance and lauded that of a team he is now the face of after Stage 3.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
19 Feb 2019 - 8:33 AM  UPDATED 19 Feb 2019 - 9:13 AM

Van Avermaet (CCC) placed third on the Qurayyat hilltop finish behind Jesus Herrada (Cofidis) and a strong Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), the defending race champion who took his second consecutive stage victory to assume the race lead.

It was the first time Van Avermaet has figured in a finish of this 10th edition but that was of no consequence on Monday where attention was two-fold on the race competition as well as classics rivals he’ll face soon at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, or ‘Opening Weekend’.

“Today I try to win of course and try to beat Lutsenko, [Domenico] Pozzovivo [Bahrain-Merida] and others. For tonight, I’m for sure looking toward those classics guys also,” he said post-race.

“You cannot compare this parcours with what we’re going to have in Flanders, but it gives an indication and I’m happy for myself that I’m in good form. I couldn’t win, but on this finish, if you see how Lutsenko is riding for the moment, it’s a good third place.”

Van Avermaet finished behind Lutsenko but ahead of climber Pozzovivo, who punctured with about 13km to go, and perhaps most notably ahead of spring classics rivals in Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale) and Niki Terpstra (Direct Energie), who were 11 seconds and 40 seconds adrift of the winner, respectively.

The peloton was buffeted by crosswinds within the final 60km of the 192.5km stage that finished with two laps of the Qurayyat climb (2.8km at 6.5 per cent). Van Avermaet admitted he was almost caught out, not expecting the sandy crosswinds that his team otherwise made an impact in.

“For me, it’s most important that the team is riding really well together. In the echelons we were there with four guys in the first group. I think this is an indication everyone is in good form and that’s the most important for me,” he said.

“It was a crosswind section before the first time up the climb, I almost missed it because I was not expecting it. I did a big effort actually to come to the first group and I was 30 minutes almost on my limit. Afterwards I could recover to do the last climb. It was not the best positioning for me but it’s probably one of the best training [sessions] I could do, and I’m pretty happy how we went.”

The vote of confidence in the team is especially pertinent given Van Avermaet’s standing and influence in what is effectively a new squad that has been made through a merger and out of the bones of his former BMC outfit.

The Belgian, as basically the only marquee rider that did not jump ship amid BMC’s financial uncertainty, helped to recruit men he believed could aid his impending spring classics campaign. Some of those men are also competing in Oman where cohesion as well as results attained this week may prove equally valuable come spring.

Van Avermaet is set to start Omloop Het Nieuwsblad after the Tour of Oman but skip Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne as he looks further ahead to the cobbles and adding the Tour of Flanders to his palmares.