Belgian cobbles specialist Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) showed off great form and cobble-riding skills at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday afternoon, but two flat tyres kept him out of the decisive breakaway move.
Together with Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Vanmarcke fought back but failed to close the gap on the lead group of four riders. Vanmarcke concluded a strong race in fifth place at 1:24 from winner Ian Stannard (Team Sky), but the first test in the Spring Classics didn’t provide Vanmarcke with much information.
“I didn’t learn much," Vanmarcke said. "I knew I was good and that’s still the case. We’ll see more tomorrow and during the upcoming weeks. I feel that I was one of the better riders today. I wouldn’t say the strongest. For myself, I was good. The team planned to go full out for the victory with me. My form was certainly good enough. Too bad I wasn’t able to offer the team a victory. I can’t be happy with a fifth place when my legs are this good.”
A first flat tyre ahead of the Taaienberg didn’t take Vanmarcke out of contention.
“I was back surprisingly fast," he said. "I had an adrenaline boost and Maarten Wynants told me to keep faith. I flew by everybody. At the foot of the Eikenberg my brother shouted to me that the gap was fifteen seconds. I told myself to close it at once. Then I had to take a breather. Bram Tankink responded to all the attacks.
“Then I decided to go for it again and reduced the numbers in the group on the Haaghoek. Then it went wrong again.”
Just when he was ripping the peloton apart on the cobbles of the Haaghoek - ust when it was clear that several riders were in big trouble and Tom Boonen moved up to make sure at least he was able to follow - Vanmarcke raised his hand to indicate he had a flat tyre.
In contrast to previous years, Vanmarcke seemed to be more relaxed after losing out on a victory.
“Until last year I had a hard time to deal with bad luck. I was only content with the victory. That’s still the case but I can deal better with it. It provides me with an ease of mind,” Vanmarcke said.
“I knew I was really good and today I showed it. That’s positive. The team was good too. They couldn’t do anything more. Bram Tankink was helping me out until the Molenberg. He did all the work on his own. I received a wheel from Maarten Wynants and surprisingly fast I got back in the front of the race. But then it went wrong again while I set the pace at the Haaghoek. Then I was forced to chase again but it didn’t work out anymore.
"I cursed hard a couple of times. The crowds were supporting me really well and shouting my name. That was a big boost.”