Greg van Avermaet favourite for Tour of Flanders after E3 Harelbeke-Gent Wevelgem double - Road Cycling UK

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Greg van Avermaet favourite for Tour of Flanders after E3 Harelbeke-Gent Wevelgem double

Olympic champion admits all eyes will be on him for Monument

Greg van Avermaet will head into the Tour of Flanders as the first man to win all three of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem in the same year since 1981.

BMC Racing’s Belgian Olympic champion beat Jens Keukeleire in a two-up sprint to win Gent-Wevelgem, just two days after beating compatriots Phlippe Gilbert and Oliver Naesen to win E3 Harelbeke.

And the 31-year-old admits he will go into Sunday’s Tour of Flanders as pre-race favourite as he bids to add a first Monument win to his palmares.

Greg van Avermaet won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem – the first man to do so since 1981 (pic: Sirotti)

“I don’t think I can say anymore that I’m not the favourite,” he said. “These wins give me extra confidence before next Sunday. Now we look to Ronde van Vlaanderen and I’m going to give it everything I have.

“I was not expecting to win Gent-Wevelgem, but I’m really happy. It’s definitely the best start of the season that I’ve ever had.

“I’ve won three Classics already so it’s an amazing feeling. It’s never easy to win these races and normally Gent-Wevelgem isn’t so much of a race for me. I tried so many times to win here and now I’ve won three all in one season.

“It’s a wonderful feeling and it gives me extra confidence for Ronde van Vlaanderen.”

Normally seen as a sprinter’s classic, world champion Peter Sagan and former winner John Degenkolb were marked as the pre-race favourites for Gent-Wevelgem.

And when Sagan, Van Avermaet and Keukeleire found themselves in a group clear of the peloton after the Kemmelberg it was all eyes on the world champion.

With 15km remaining, however, the Bora-hansgrohe man had been distanced – QuickStep Floors’ Niki Terpstra refusing to help him chase down the two leaders.

It left Van Avermaet to outsprint Keukeleire and continue his fine form, which included victory at E3 Harelbeke on Friday.

While Sagan was frustrated by a lack of support from the breakaway at Gent-Wevelgem, Van Avermaet sprinted to victory (pic: Sirotti)

On that occasion, Van Avermaet marked moves by Belgian champion Gilbert and his QuickStep Floors’ team-mate Tom Boonen on the Taaienberg cobbled climb.

And on Oude Kwaremont – which could again prove pivotal at the Tour of Flanders too – the two slipped clear of their rivals with only Oliver Naesen (Ag2r-La Mondiale) able to follow.

Gilbert and Van Avermaet are former BMC Racing team-mates, though the latter’s presence in the team often meant Gilbert – better known for his performances in the Ardennes Classics – was overlooked for the cobbles.

Nevertheless, all three men in the break worked well together and that commitment paid off as they came into Harelbeke with a big advantage.

Naesen led the sprint out, but it was Van Avermaet who took victory to reiterate his form on the ‘Mini Tour of Flanders’.

“When you win, the team gets stronger and more confident,” he said post-race. “It’s good to start [the monuments] with confidence. They know I’m ready. When the team leader is strong, the helpers are strong.”

E3 Harelbeke 2017: result

1) Greg van Avermaet (BEL) – BMC Racing – 4.48.17hrs
2) Philippe Gilbert (BEL) – QuickStep Floors – ST
3) Oliver Naesen (BEL) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
4) Luke Durbridge (AUS) – Orica-Scott +40”
5) Lukas Postlberger (AUT) – Bora-hansgrohe +41”
6) Michael Valgren (DEN) – Astana +52”
7) Sonny Colbrelli (ITA) – Bahrain-Merida – ST
8) Tom Boonen (BEL) – QuickStep Floors
9) Dylan van Baarle (NED) – Cannondale-Drapac
10) Alberto Bettiol (ITA) – Cannondale-Drapac

Gent-Wevelgem 2017: result

1) Greg van Avermaet (BEL) – BMC Racing – 5.39.05hrs
2) Jens Keukeleire (BEL) – Orica-Scott – ST
3) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Bora-hansgrohe +6”
4) Niki Terpstra (NED) – QuickStep Floors – ST
5) John Degenkolb (GER) – Trek-Segafredo
6) Tom Boonen (BEL) – QuickStep Floors
7) Jens Debusschere (BEL) – Lotto-Soudal
8) Michael Matthews (AUS) – Team Sunweb
9) Fernando Gaviria (COL) – QuickStep Floors
10) Sacha Modolo (ITA) – UAE Team Emirates

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