Greg Van Avermaet remained true to himself to the last.
All through his career, the Belgian was a model of composure, modest in victory and calm in defeat, and he was equally phlegmatic when it came to considering retirement earlier this year.
The announcement was packaged in a sober statement issued shortly after a subdued Classics campaign, and the decision was reached without any particular wailing or gnashing of teeth. At 38 years of age, the time had come, no more and no less.
“It was the end of my contract with AG2R, and I also was not really searching for anything else. So I just decided after the Classics, which were not that great, to say, ‘It’s been enough,’” Van Avermaet explained recently.
“It’s just been a nice career, and I’m super happy to finish it still on a good way and being competitive. Not on the same level I was, but I can be happy with what I did. I’m happy with my decision.”
The low-key nature of the announcement felt utterly in keeping with Van Avermaet’s character.
Even in the middle of the last decade, when he was Belgium’s best Classics rider, he never stirred passions in quite the same way as Tom Boonen before him or Wout van Aert after him, and he probably preferred it that way.
Boonen’s imminent retirement in the Spring of 2017 saw the Flemish press publish regular reminders of precisely how many days he had left as a rider. Van Avermaet was probably grateful for a quieter sort of farewell.
In truth, he had been circling over the decision since at least last summer, when, for the first time since 2013, he had been deemed surplus to requirements for Tour de France selection. By then, he had gone over three years without winning a race and, during his first two seasons at AG2R Citroën, there was no escaping the sense that he was dropping steadily away in the cobbled Classics as a new generation took hold.
Last winter, perhaps for the first time since he was a neo-pro, Van Avermaet began his pre-season training aiming for respectability at his beloved Tour of Flanders rather than aiming for the win. When April came, it was clear that Pogacar, Van der Poel et al were travelling to places he could no longer reach. He announced his retirement shortly afterwards with neither recrimination nor regret.
“The Classics period was, in my opinion, just not good enough for myself, you know,” Van Avermaet said. “You train hard, and you do everything, but it doesn’t really come out anymore, so then it’s also…