Scan the list of riders with DNF next to their name and you’ll come across the newly-crowned Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet. As Greg climbed off the bike that day and made his way to the team bus, the usual crowd of Belgian cycling journalists questioned if something was wrong. Nothing was wrong, he just didn’t have the legs he later explained.
A rider pulling out of a race is nothing new but if you look through Greg’s results on ProCyclingStats.com one thing stands out, besides the 41 wins he has to his name. The three letters DNF rarely appear. In fact, since 2004, you will only see them listed nine times in 1118 race days.
“I don’t like to give up,” Greg said. “When I line up at the start line, I’m thinking about winning or at the very least, finishing the race.”
Which is how we get to the number 255. Greg has started and finished 255 race days since his last DNF at the 2016 Il Lombardia. Only one rider has more. Chris Froome tops the list of current riders with 301 consecutive race days without a DNF.
Now, two months out from the return to racing, we asked Greg to re-visit some of his best and worst race days since the 2016 Il Lombardia.
My best win in the last 255 race days would have to be Paris-Roubiax in 2017 because it was my first Monument. It was a really special win for me because I had to wait so long for it and Paris-Roubaix is such an important race in cycling. I’ll never forget it.
There are a couple of races that really stand out as disappointing. Ronde van Vlaanderen in 2017 when I crashed on the Kwaremont was hard because I felt like I was in a winning position and everything was going well. I had good legs and I was confident we would catch Gilbert but in an instant, it was all over again. Coming second to John Degenkolb in the Roubaix stage of the Tour de France in 2018 was also a big disappointment. I really wanted to win the stage in the yellow jersey as that would have been a really special moment. To come so close always hurts.
Hardest day in the saddle:
Strade Bianche in 2018 was a really hard race for me. It was just an off day and I didn’t feel good. For me, it was quite hard to handle because it is a race that I really like and admire and I look forward to it every year. It is a beautiful race to watch but even more to race. But my body was just saying no and I wasn’t capable of doing a good result which was hard to deal with because it doesn’t happen that often to me. So, it was probably one of the hardest days of my career.
Easiest day in the saddle:
There is no such thing as an easy race day. You always have to suffer a bit even if you are in top shape. Bike racing is all about the suffering. So, the only easy days are a nice loop to a coffee shop at home.
Hottest race day:
The World Championships in Doha, Qatar was probably the hottest day in those 255 race days. The temperature was really high and because we were in the desert, there was no way to escape it. It definitely wasn’t the nicest race day.
Coldest race day:
There have been a lot of cold days throughout my career but in the last few years, Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2019 stands out for me. Luckily the sun can out in the finale but the beginning of the race was freezing and we were really suffering. I don’t like the cold so I always perform better in warmer weather.
Most enjoyable race:
Ronde van Vlaanderen is the most enjoyable race for me but I can’t pick my favorite edition. All of my friends and family are on the side of the road and the parcours is suited to me perfectly. Racing on your home roads is something special and the history of the race makes it even more important and enjoyable.
Day I wanted to quit:
I always like to ride by my bike but you do have those bad days where it is not really going your way and you suffer until the finish line. Normally that happens for me in the Tour de France when I have done a big effort the day before to keep the yellow jersey or go for a stage win. You are completely empty because you have raced the day before like it was a one day race and then it takes a few days to recover. So if those days are in the mountains, especially if they’re at 1000m or more, you really suffer a lot. I’m always super happy when I come to the hotel after those stages and know I have made it through another day.
Day I wanted to stay on the bike:
The whole Classics campaign in 2017 because I started with the win in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, I was second in Strade Bianche, and then I won E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, and Paris-Roubaix, as well as second in Ronde van Vlaanderen. It was nice because I’ve had to work hard for these results in the past and that year, everything went my way. It wasn’t easy but it was a lot of fun because I could ride without pressure. When you have some wins on the board, it takes the pressure off and you can just enjoy the races. So that whole spring was really a time when I wanted to stay on my bike. You feel good, your shape is good, and that’s a really nice feeling.
Day I would repeat over and over again
My Paris-Roubaix win is a race I would like to repeat over and over again because it had a bit of everything. From the preparation before, the great teamwork, how the race unfolded with the first mechanical and coming back with a lot of help from my teammates and then having a good strategy and legs in the final. There were moments when it looked like things were not good but it all came together and I think it was a really exciting race. The feeling of coming into the velodrome and winning the sprint was something I can’t put into words.
📷 Chris Auld