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Gent-Wevelgem podium (l-r): Sep Vanmarcke (Topsport Vlaanderen - Mercator), 2nd; Bernhard Eisel (HTC - Columbia), 1st; Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma - Lotto), 3rd.
Belgian's Gent-Wevelgem ride earned a spot with Garmin-Cervélo
Fresh Garmin-Cervélo recruit Sep Vanmarcke is confident he will earn a position in his team's formidable Classics roster, but knows he faces fierce competition for places alongside new teammate and World Champion Thor Hushovd.
"I think the rosters for Paris-Roubaix and Flanders will be decided after Gent-Wevelgem because we've got 14 Classics riders, so the team will only take the best," Vanmarcke told Cyclingnews. "Hopefully I'm as good as last year, or even better and I'll find myself in the team. I think if everything is going well for me and the team, I will make it into the squad for those races. But you never know. I will have to be really good."
Vanmarcke joins Garmin-Cervélo from Topsport Vlaanderen after a strong season that included second place on debut at this year's Gent-Wevelgem. The Belgian signed with the American team in May. The early move has seen him steer clear of the widespread upheaval witnessed amongst professional squads in recent months, including significant changes to his new squad.
But for Vanmarcke, whose long-term objectives are inextricably linked to the European spring, the addition of riders like Thor Hushovd to an already strong Classics squad is being treated as a bonus. The Belgian is looking forward to working with the new World Champion and his former Cervélo cohorts, as well as the existing Classics roster that boasts Tyler Farrar, Johan van Summeren and Martijn Maaskant.
"I'll try every year to do better in the Classics," Vanmarcke said. "It's very much about experience in those races. I had an agreement before the merger with Cervélo, but for me it's been a good thing. Guys like Hushovd, [Andreas] Klier and [Roger] Hammond are really good and I can learn a lot from them for the Classics.
"I guess if they weren't there, I would have to figure a lot of things out on my own. But they're the top guys, and I will learn so much. I think long term it will be really good for my future."
Whilst Vanmarcke is aware he is joining a busy ship, he has his sights set on one day taking the helm. Entering only his second full year as a professional his healthy ambition could prove a boon for both Garmin-Cervélo and their new recruit.
"In the future I want to be a leader in the Classics. I'm only 22, so I know I will have to help sometimes, but I hope that will be in the finale of races. If I get an opportunity to ride for myself I will take it. I don't have a problem supporting my teammates, but my goal is to become a leader."
Vanmarcke's first races in Garmin-Cervélo colours will be the Tours Qatar and Oman. He will then set his sights on making the selection for the major cobbled Classics - the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix - at a series of shorter stage races.
"I'm not sure which race I'm going to do on the first weekend in Belgium, but I will ride one of the two - Het Nieuwsblad or Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. I'm going to Paris-Nice and then the Dwars door Vlaanderen Waregem and then Gent-Wevelgem. Hopefully, I'll race Paris-Roubaix and Flanders."
Making his own luck
After a strong debut seasons Vanmarcke and fellow neo-pro Jens Keukeleire (Cofidis) have established themselves as future hopes for Belgian cycling. The latter claimed four race wins this year, while the former's powerful style appearing suited to big races on Belgian roads.
Vanmarcke signed with Garmin after a revelatory performance at this year's Gent-Wevelgem. His second place finish between Bernard Eisel (HTC-Columbia) and Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) was enough to catch the attention of the American squad, who demonstrated the extent of their admiration two months later with an offer of a two-year deal.
"The most important point was probably my second place at Gent-Wevelgem. At the beginning of June my manager began speaking with Garmin. The Classics and the spring were good for me and that was what got them interested," explained Vanmarcke, who had been forced to keep the secret of his signing since May.
"They spoke to my manager and they must have been really interested in me because after the Classics I struggled with some injuries. I had a problem with my achilles and even after two months off racing they still wanted me. That gave me a real boost."
The move meant breaking his two-year neo-pro contract with Topsport Vlaanderen. But with the team's main objective being the development of young Belgian riders, they were never going to stand in Vanmarcke's way.
"They always like to keep the guys - that's normal - especially when things are going well. They like results too. But the project of Topsport Vlaanderen is to make guys better and let them go to a ProTeam, so in my case that worked, so they're happy from that perspective.
"I didn't expect a result like [Gent-Wevelgem] or to go to a bigger team so fast," Vanmarke told Cyclingnews. "But when you get an offer from a big team like [Garmin], I think it's good to have the opportunity to learn and improve, so I thought 'why not take the chance'."