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An interview with Greg Van Avermaet, September 9, 2008
Hitting the big time
By Bjorn Haake
Greg Van Avermaet is still very young, but has had some good successes already, thanks to his speed in the final metres. The Silence-Lotto rider took a few lessons from the team's designated sprinter, Robbie McEwen. With McEwen's departure, Silence Lotto will be happy to have a good replacement.
Van Avermaet is only 23 years of age, but has now already scored a stage win in a Grand Tour. "To win a stage in the Vuelta is something really great for a young rider like me. I am very happy I could make it."
Van Avermaet acknowledged that the win didn't come easily. "The stage started out very hard. I was trying to always be in the front of the group."
Stage nine started from Vielha, a picturesque town surrounded by the Pyrenean mountains. But the scenic part soon gave way to the banner of the sharp start, which was already located on the climb. Some riders immediately had tunnel vision from the efforts, but after only seven kilometres everybody had a tunnel vision. The 5.4-kilometre Tunel de Vielha awaited the riders.
Van Avermaet found the air wasn't too stale, either. "But I did have to take off my sun glasses," he smiled. The tunnel may have been lit, but not quite enough. Van Avermaet wasn't sure initially if the break would face its usual fate. "At first I didn't think we would be able to stay away. But after the big category one climb I was a bit sure, as we had six minutes."
As a sprinter to stay with the lead group is not the usual way to prepare for a sprint, though. Van Avermaet had a few riders to be afraid of. "I was not sure if I was the strongest and fastest in the end, as there were good riders, like Nocentini, Rebellin or Cunego."
But Van Avermaet prevailed with a strong sprint in the centre of the road. "After the last mountain I was thinking about the stage victory and I am very happy I took it!"
Before the Vuelta he had nine season wins. To date his biggest victory came in the Tour of Belgium last year, when he won stage three. He also achieved wins in the Tour de Wallonie, the Tour de l'Ain, a stage in Qatar and also the one day race Rund um die Hainlaite in Germany.
His career started out as a football player, where he started out as a field player and ended up as a goalie. In fact some football scouts had him in their mind, but it didn't quite work out.
His father, Ronald Van Avermaet, told him "try bike racing." He did and it ended up being a good choice. His U23 career was already filled with many wins. The biggest was the win of the U23 Belgian road championships in 2006. His good results and his brother-in-law, Glen d'Hollander, landed him a professional contract with Josan-team-Ternat.
He won the first stage of the Triptyque des Barrages, which confirmed his good results and landed him an invitation to the World Championships for the Belgian U23 squad.
Eventually, ProTour team Predictor Lotto (now Silence Lotto) had an eye on him and gave him contract for 2007. Besides four wins he also scored an eighth place in the Hamburg Cyclassics. With D'Hollander, he has a familiar and family teammate, too. Not that Van Avermaetneeded much help with settling into the professional circuit. He looks well set to be on the right path for a bright future.