Tour de France: Greg Van Avermaet advised his climbing wasn’t adequate for choice

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Greg Van Avermaet has been told by AG2R-Citroën management that his climbing is not “good enough” after missing out on Tour de France selection for the first time since 2013.

The Belgian has been a safe bet for a Tour ride for nearly a decade, and has posted stints in the yellow jersey and won two stages.

Van Avermaet thought he had done enough to make the cut but received a call from general manager Vincent Lavenu and sporting director Julien Jurdie to say his services would not be needed this summer.

“It was a tough decision to hear that. Vincent and Julien, the sport directors, called me yesterday with the news that I was not in the squad for the Tour de France. It was a big disappointment because I didn’t expect it,” Van Avermaet said in a press conference on Thursday.

“They never said I was 100 percent safe on the Tour, but I felt like I wasn’t really replaceable on the team. It was a little surprise. The main thing was that at the moment I wasn’t climbing well enough to support the team on the toughest stages. That was the main explanation I think. That’s why I’m not on the tour.”

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Despite accepting his team’s decision to leave him at home this July, Van Avermaet says he had the strength to contribute to the team’s GC and stage goals. He believes a somewhat lackluster performance at the recent Critérium du Dauphiné triggered the decision, but says it wasn’t a good demonstration of what he was capable of.

“I am alright [in the mountains], the Dauphiné is a preparation race for me and something different from the Tour,” he said. “I had a big blockage at some other races before and the Dauphiné wasn’t really a race for me. I was pretty good on the stages I could ride, but on the mountain stages I just wasn’t good enough to do anything.

“I think that made the management panic a bit because they didn’t pick me, but to be honest I felt ready to ride the Tour. Maybe not at the level of five or six years ago, but still able to do my thing, support and maybe do something for myself in a few steps.”

Overcome the disappointment

For Van Avermaet, one of the biggest blows is that he didn’t get a chance for glory on the cobblestone stage 5. A former Paris-Roubaix winner, he would have been one of the big favorites for the stage win that day and could have played an important role in protecting O’Connor.

He had already taken to the stage earlier this year with O’Connor and fellow Classics driver Oliver Naesen. There are other places where Van Avermaet thinks he could make a difference.

“On the cobbled stage, we did the exploration with Ben and Oliver. If you’ve done the scouting beforehand, you know what the course is like and that it’s going to suit me well,” he said. “The last time we rode cobblestones in the Tour, I was yellow and finished second behind John Degenkolb. Of course it was a big goal for me to do as well as possible there as well. And then Longwy [stage 6]I was fourth a few years ago [in 2017 -ed], so I already know these two versions. Then comes the big hectic start in Denmark and a couple of good stages in between which are good for a breakaway.”

Van Avermaet, like many riders, has a certain love-hate relationship with the Tour de France, but he says it will take time to process the bitter disappointment of missing this season. It will also take him some time to figure out what his next big goal will be.

“On the Tour, you either love it or you hate it. When you’re not there you miss it and when you’re there it’s hectic. It’s a special race, but if you can win a stage or do something special, you keep that for your whole career,” he said.

“I think it’s important to process the big disappointment. It’s definitely not easy for me to deal with. It’s the first time in my career that I haven’t made it. Before, when I was young, we did my program and said we wouldn’t do the tour, but we will do this and that. Later in my career, I was almost 100 percent sure of my tour selection in May. Now it’s the first time in my career that I haven’t reached the goal of being selected for one of my favorite races. It’s quite difficult to deal with and it will be a few days before I can focus on another plan.”