Vanmarcke feeling 'no pressure' ahead of Paris-Roubaix

EF Education First rider shows strength at Scheldeprijs after knee injury

Sep Vanmarcke's race against the clock to be ready for the Monuments that matter most to him has been won. A crash at the E3 BinckBank Classic appeared to have ruined the EF Education First rider's spring Classics campaign, but the events of the last few days have turned the tide. Teammate Alberto Bettiol won the Tour of Flanders last weekend, and Vanmarcke was a major factor in the team's dominance. On Wednesday, Vanmarcke enjoyed a good ride at Scheldeprijs, and he seems ready to have a decent go at Paris-Roubaix on Sunday.

Vanmarcke added Scheldeprijs to his schedule as he felt that more racing kilometres would help him to be better at Roubaix this weekend. After the race, he seemed content, but said that it had been a hard race.

"There were echelons all the time, but I was always up there," he told Cyclingnews at the finish line in Schoten, adding that he had hoped that the one race that always ends in a bunch sprint would conclude differently.

"The guys from Bora-Hansgrohe always blocked things out. They had a lot of riders in there, but they didn't race. I don't get it. They were always in the move, yet still they didn't co-operate. Now look: they got beaten. Congratulations. QuickStep missed every move, but in the end they won the race," Vanmarcke said of Deceuninck-QuickStep rider Fabio Jakobsen's win.

Two months ago, Vanmarcke managed to get a win in a group sprint at the Tour du Haut Var – a rarity for a rider who doesn't win a lot. An off-day at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad ruined the Belgian 'Opening Weekend', although he completed Tirreno-Adriatico without major issues and seemed ready for a good run at the Classics. But before the finale of the E3 race had even kicked off, he was spotted in a ditch, and severely hurt his knee, forcing him to abandon the race. The 30-year-old Belgian rider feared that months of training would've been for nothing.

However, he tested his knee during a ride on the Friday before the Tour of Flanders, discovering that it was possible to race, and so he planned to ride in support of teammates Sebastian Langeveld and Alberto Bettiol, and to quit the race early on. That didn't happen. Vanmarcke managed to ride one of his best finales of the past few years at the Classics as he managed to anticipate the big moves. When dropping back from the front, he was able to work for Bettiol and Langeveld and outnumber the other teams. Bettiol then surprised everyone with his acceleration on the Oude Kwaremont and his solo victory.

The main question for Vanmarcke is whether he'll be competitive at Paris-Roubaix. It's a race he's started and finished seven times, including chalking up four top-five finishes. During his debut in 2013, he took second place, having been beaten in the sprint by Fabian Cancellara on the velodrome in Roubaix. Since then, Vanmarcke has been in love with 'The Queen of the Classics' and he doesn't want to miss out on an eighth participation there, where he stands to do well if he can anticipate the big moves once again.

"First, they have to let me go," Vanmarcke said. "I feel good and I feel that I'm fresh, but I'm lacking power on my left side, and I have to compensate for that. It was the same on Sunday. I started feeling cramps here and there because I'm sitting slightly skewed on the bike. I'll do the best I can and get the best out of it, though, and the benefit I have is that there's no pressure on me," Vanmarcke said, referring to Bettiol's win at Flanders.

After Paris-Roubaix, Vanmarcke doesn't know yet if he'll add the Amstel Gold Race to his schedule. He's keen to ride races now that he's up and running again, but he's also longing to rest his knee.

"I thought about asking the team if I can do Amstel because I'm still fresh," he told Cyclingnews. "On the other hand, I'm sitting skewed on the bike and my knee started swelling again and being warm after Sunday. Amstel wasn't on my schedule, and the team haven't asked me to do it, but I'd like to.

"My brain tells me I shouldn't do it, though. My knee feels like a bouncy castle. There's so much fluid in it, especially after a hard race, so it's probably smarter to rest my knee and not do Amstel after Roubaix," he said.

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