Echoes

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From yesterday's De Morgen

Greg Van Avermaet can become World Champion next Sunday. He even has a concrete plan but he won’t say more. The only thing we know for sure is that training mate Oliver Naesen will play a crucial role in it but even the accomplice will shut up like a dead.

You are both part of “De Parelvissers” (“The Pearl Fishers”), a band of riders from the Waasland and the area of the Dender River who go training together. Have you learn to know each other from there?

Van Avermaet nodding: I’ve founded the “Parelvissers” along with my cousins Matthias and Thomas Ongena. In the meantime we’ve forgotten about where the name “Parelvissers” came from but it’s a fun way to train. We are a roughly 10-man band, a fun band. Four years ago Matthias asked whether Oliver could get along in an Ardennes weekend, our fixed rendezvous to finish the season. I didn’t know him but I agreed to it.

Naesen: I had a good welcome and we got along very well right away. I was no pro yet back then but I’ve kept training along and never missed a day.

You do have very different characters, don’t you? Oliver is the talkative parrot while Greg is more introvert. Is that correct?

Greg: There aren’t so many differences but Ollie is more social than I am, yeah.

Ollie: I’m a bit more extravert. If something is sticking to my throat, I have to vent it out.

Like after the Eurometropole Tour? You called Dylan Groenewegen villainous [actually not him, but what happened], retarded and moronic after a sprint incident. Greg doesn’t even dare to think of such things.

Greg: Thinking about it, I do. But it’s true I would never say it. I’m a bit more quiet but I would also have been angry if I were him. If you sprint for the win and you are pushed to the barriers, you are furious.

Ollie: My problem was not the win. It was very dangerous. At 65kmh I landed in the gutter and even had to jump over a block of concrete in a 1mm thick jersey and with a plastic helmet. I read that I’m a bad loser but that’s not true. I’m doing nothing but losing. If I crash there and break my wrist. Then I couldn’t have gone to the Worlds. That was the point.

You got a lot of support in the peloton. Edward Theuns named it the interview of the year.

Ollie: In Binche-Chimay-Binche (two days after the Eurometropole Tour, ed) teammates of Groenewegen’s came to me one by one and said “We may not say it loud but you are right”

Who is your favourite for Sunday?

Ollie: In my opinion it’s Greg. You cannot predict the wind but I’m assuming it can be a hard race.
Greg: I suspect the temperature won’t be a problem but I fear the sprinters will still be favoured. But who? I say Cavendish.

Ollie: But he hasn’t raced for long.

Greg: He still raced in Italy. Cavendish can race in echelons and is very fast. But After a hard race, You don’t know. Then there are chances. After a hard race I can beat anyone, even Cavendish.

You’ve never done that yet?

Greg: After 250k he also is no longer there anymore.

You rarely play hide-and-sneek. If you say you are tired, then it’s true, isn’t it?

Greg: Yeah in the meantime there’s been a lot to do about it but what should I say if I’m asked about it, lying?

Does a tired Van Avermaet have any chances at the Worlds?

Ollie: the Van Avermaet of Rio was also tired.

Greg: True. I had raced the Tour of France and the Classica San Sebastian. I was not super fresh but I was ready. Why these doubts? Look at my results. First in Montreal. 2nd in Quebec, 4th in the Tour of the Low Countries and 4th in Binche. Try to find somebody with better results in the last few months.

Is Oliver the man who can keep you from the wind like Maes will do with Boonen?

Greg: That’s been agreed with the national coach. Iljo Keisse will stay with me. I think Oliver can get deeper in the race. He must think further. He’s too good to sacrifice himself so early. If I got him newt to me in the final lap, then a lot is possible.

Tell us

Greg: I have something in mind but I won’t say it yet.

Do you know his plan?

Ollie (laughing his head off): I shut up.

Oliver, for you, it’s your first Worlds: it’s apparent how enthusiastic you are.

Ollie: I find it a real honour. We have a nice team to ride here. Look at the names: Boonen is the King of Qatar, Greg is along with Sagan the best rider in the world and all the domestiques have won something this year. We should do such Worlds more often.

You have no problem with secondary roles?

Ollie: A somebody should know his place. The best Naesen can still hardly reach the heels of the worst Van Avermaet.

You called yourself a lighter version of Van Avermaet.

Ollie: Greg light, even superlight. I’m trying to emulate his style but I’m far from being as good.

Greg, how nice is it to have with you a rider you can trust with your wallet?

Greg: That’s very important. Having a good mate in support is totally different from a passer-by who for a while comes to ride for you. Ollie gives me peace. I like having a team that is 100% behind me. That’s when I perform the best.

Ollie: For me the relationship is reversed. Greg inspires me. Training with the Olympic champion is a great incentive.

Greg: That works both ways. Ollie also makes me better. He pushes me in training. When he came for the first times in the Ardennes I knew immediately: this guy can do more. Normally if I attack there’s nobody left in my wheel but he was still in my wheel. I still remember I thought: “Jeez, this kid here can do things” [hard to translate, it’s dialect words]

We had thought that you would have pleaded for him in BMC.

Greg: I did. After the classics I said I wanted Ollie with us. “It’s good”, they said. “But you still need to wait a little bit.” I reiterated my request before the nats but they waited for too long (Naesen signed with AG2R last July, ed). Now they asked: “How stupid have we been?” It’s the most stupid thing they could have done and I also told them so. They then came up with a few other names but I don’t want to pick somebody like that. I praised Oliver because I was 100% sure he would have been an added-value. He can do more than those who are now along.

Ollie: I would really have liked to go to BMC but it didn’t seem to succeed. AG2R offered two years and sporting freedom: then you shouldn’t hesitate for too long. If you see where I was two or three years ago, then you won’t hear me complain.

The story goes that you went racing to get rid of hangovers.

Ollie: That’s over the top. I’ve been a student like everybody and went occasionally with friends to a football match and would drink a beer. I haven’t finished my studies and started working as a courier. 10 hour days. In that period all my spare time were dedicated to racing. A hard combo but I was rather good in kermesses and that’s how I got a contract with Topsport Vlaanderen.

Greg: He’s very good in local laps. Beware of him for next Sunday.
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