Sep Vanmarcke (Lotto NL-Jumbo) is one of the riders who has shown he is ready to take over the torch from injured Classics specialists Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) and Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep).
Bad luck has held back the 26-year-old Belgian rider as of late, but on a given day he seems capable of blasting away the opposition. In the E3 Harelbeke on Friday afternoon he rode the final four climbs with a damaged shoe cleat, missing the decisive breakaway but finishing fifth.
Briefly on tiptoe during a shoe switch, Vanmarcke fought back in style and salvaged a fifth place in the sprint. Last year Vanmarcke punctured twice and won the sprint behind the four leaders, also finishing fifth.
“I’m not more frustrated than last year,” vanmarcke said after E3 Harelbeke. “Last year I punctured just ahead of the Paterberg and now I damage my shoe cleat on the Paterberg. For some reason it always goes wrong in Harelbeke. I got the most out of it after my bad luck. It just doesn’t stop.”
After the race he sat in the Sporza studio for a post-race analysis. Eventually he talked shortly at the team bus, which was ready to go. When asked by the Focus-WTV journalist whether the third place in the sprint provided him with confidence, Vanmarcke reacted annoyed.
“Yes, but you’re always talking about confidence,” he said. “I’m confident but I keep having bad luck. I’m confident.”
At Tirreno-Adriatico the LottoNL-Jumbo rider struggled with illness and minor sores. “I was never worried about my form. I knew it was great. I showed that at the Strade Bianche,” Vanmarcke told Sporza on Wednesday.
That confidence showed on the first metres of the Paterberg. At 42 kilometres from the finish line in Harelbeke’s Forestier football stadium, Vanmarcke cornered at high speed into the Paterberg climb with the rest of the peloton on his heels.
Sylvain Chavanel (IAM Cycling) was unable to hold his wheel as Vanmarcke was powering away in the gutter. Suddenly, Vanmarcke slipped out of the gutter and had to set foot on the cobbles to stay upright. He was caught back and dropped back into the group behind Chavanel, Daniel Oss (BMC Racing) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo).
“I felt good all day long,” Vanmarcke said. “It was the plan to go for it on the Paterberg. I was keen to go. I didn’t overpower on the climb but stayed in the gutter for too long. I slipped away in the mud and damaged my shoe. I didn’t have any support on my pedals. It was about doing damage control on the Oude Kwaremont. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up. I needed a different shoe as soon as possible.”
The race was decided when three riders got away on the following climb, the 2,200 metres long cobbled Oude Kwaremont. Vanmarcke started the climb in first position, but then faded back on the steepest part before hammering back on the final sections of the famous climb.
“I anticipated as the pace dropped,” Vanmarcke explained to Sporza. “I knew I wasn’t able to put the power on the pedals. It was like riding on a city bike. I tried to position myself to the front to lose as little time and metres. It was damage control. I could only push on the pedals. It was hard to close the gap and I hoped other riders would take over from me on the main road.”
Nevertheless, the trio was gone up the road and Vanmarcke had to hope other riders would bring them back. While Vanmarcke swapped his right shoe, BMC worked hard and came back to 25 seconds until Greg Van Avermaet spectacularly crashed away.
“It was going rather well until Van Avermaet crashed and BMC stopped chasing,” Vanmarcke said. “It was really sad because they stopped, QuickStep created a block on those small roads and they had one minute in no time. The victory was gone.”
The chase was over, making the large chase group sprint for third place. The group included several fast men like Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) and Matteo Trentin (Etixx-QuickStep). On the line it was Trentin who held off Kristoff and Vanmarcke for the final podium spot.
“I was on the wheel from Trentin,” Vanmarcke told Sporza. “He can do a good sprint in a smaller peloton. I didn’t dare to throw myself in between riders. I don’t want to make other riders crash. It was too late when there was space to do something. I had to be pleased with fifth place.”
During the last few years Vanmarcke has morphed into a pavé classics specialist. He burst onto the scene by defeating Tom Boonenen in a two-man sprint in the 2012 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Last year Vanmarcke finished third in the Ronde van Vlaanderen and fourth in Paris-Roubaix. In 2013 he was beaten in a two-man sprint by Fabian Cancellara on the vélodrome in Roubaix.