Greg van Avermaet, Mr. Second Place, found himself with a 33.333% chance of winning Strade Bianche. One in three odds against as he raced into Sienna with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep).
“Now is the time” Van Avermaet had stated at the start of this season, time to move from the second places to the top step of the podium, win something glorious and massive, show up Philippe Gilbert, prove you’re the boss man at BMC Racing.
Odds were in Valverde’s favor to win on the steep 18% final grade up t0 the iconic square of Via Santa Caterina. Van Avermaet hit it hard at the base of the climb, dropping Valverde but it was Stybar who jumped on the BMC rider’s wheel and passed him with decisive force.
Second place, deja vu all over again.
Avermaet had to be aggressive to win but the question is more about his head than his legs. Did he hit the gas too early? Stybar sure thought so in his post-race comments: “Greg surprised me and went really early.”
Was Van Avermaet’s head in the ozone?
The Belgian had spent all week claiming that he didn’t employ the banned practice of ozone doping in connection with controversial doctor Chris Mertens. Van Avermaet will answer these allegations in front on the Belgian Cycling Federation on March 13.
Did the ozone cloud his race tactics. Did all the stress and frustration and anger in dealing with the accusations throw him off his game? Was he extra desperate to change his story from bad to good?
Only Van Avermaet knows the answer to that question. But watching the final kilometers, that story was in the back of our head, factoring into the tactics.
Maybe Van Avermaet was 100% focused on calculating his odds and strategy as they reached Sienna. Then again, maybe that razor sharp focus was off just enough for an error in judgement.
Ozone therapy caused a loss of opportunity.