At the tender age of 23, the relatively unknown Belgian rider Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Barracuda) left his mark in the peloton with an astounding performance at the first of the spring classics, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
Being a man from the region, residing in Waregem, Vanmarcke attacked the famous Flemish hellingen with gusto, pushed through on the pavé sections and eventually stormed to a sprint win over Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) at St-Peter’s square in Ghent, Belgium.
“I still can’t believe that I’ve won but I figure it’ll be true,” he said in press centre an hour after the finish. “This is unbelievable. As a 14-year-old you start to race and you admire the Belgians who ride the classics and win. You grow, each year you improve and now I’m here, winning my first classic.”
While his girlfriend Pauline Billiet was already emotional before the race was over Vanmarcke too allowed himself a tear after the race. “This was my first classic win. That’s why I started to race and finally I achieved my goal, and in such a way; I’ve just beaten Boonen,” Vanmarcke said.
“I’ve been through a lot of emotional roller coasters in the past due to some health issues. This winter I’ve worked much more professionally, for example doing exercises every day for two hours to strengthen my back which is often causing problems elsewhere. I had to say no to a lot of things which wasn’t always easy, also for my girlfriend.”
After the race, Boonen and Vanmarcke talked with each other and at one point they were in the Sporza TV studio together when Boonen said that Vanmarcke probably peaked for this race whereas Boonen himself is aiming for the big Classics in April.
“Well, that’s not true because I’ve only raced in the [Volta ao] Algarve (Feb. 15-19) before today. I intended to be in top form later than other years. Tom congratulated me several times and told me it would now start for me,” Vanmarcke said.
Vanmarcke was vigilant when the first selection was made in the finale. When Boonen tested his legs on the Taaienberg, with 59km to go, Vanmarcke swiftly marked his wheel, thus featuring in the decisive breakaway group. With 35km to go Vanmarcke put the hammer down himself on the Molenberg.
“During training I managed to complete it on the big ring so I wanted to arrive there in first position and do it again,” he said. “There were some gaps but not enough. That’s why I tried again on the cobbles of the Paddestraat.”
Those cobbles came 30km from the finish in Ghent, and then on the cobbles of the Lange Munte, he accelerated again and this time only Boonen and Flecha were able to keep up.
“After the Lange Munte I concluded that I would be second or third. I gave myself a 1% chance of beating Boonen and that would be with a surprise move. My legs felt tired but I was still fresh in my mind. In the sprint I wanted to go early but I couldn’t figure out the distance on the signs.
“When Boonen started the sprint that tactic was over. He went over Flecha and so did I. Then I waited for the chicane that hindered Flecha last year to get more space. Boonen said he lost speed but I passed him when he was still at full speed. I had a super day and on a super day I have a decent sprint.”
When asked about his future role in the Garmin-Barracuda team Vanmarcke expressed the hope to move up the ladder after this performance. “Today Heinrich Haussler was the team leader, not me. I hope I’m all set for a couple of good years and this certainly was a step in the right direction. Hopefully I’ll be less and less a domestique so I can achieve better results and battle for the victory.
"I know that I’m 23 years old and good on the cobbles, actually it’s the only thing I’m good at. In a stage race I’m good the first day and then get worse each day. Winning the Tour of Flanders is something for later. Some guys weren’t here like Cancellara and the other top riders will be stronger in a few weeks. Maybe I’ll play my role this year. I don’t know where this will end.”