This morning Cyclingnews asked readers on social media to caption a photo we took of Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac) clambering over a barrier towards a cafe at the start of Dwars door Vlaanderen. A few hours later, after Vanmarcke had crossed the finish line anonymously in the main peloton, some of those caption efforts proved awkwardly accurate, with the Belgian revealing that bowel problems held him back in the first of an all-important run of cobbled classics.
"By 10 o'clock I’d already been on the toilet four times," he told Cyclingnews and several Belgian reporters outside the Cannondale-Drapac bus. "Straight from the start I felt weird. I was running on empty, and maybe that’s why I didn’t feel good today."
Vanmarcke, a perennial animator of the spring classics, missed the boat when Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) attacked on the Berendries, forming the first key selection of the race with just over 75 kilometres remaining. Despite committing teammates to the chase, alongside Arnaud Demare’s FDJ, he’d never see the front of the race again.
"During the race I told the guys that I wasn't feeling great, but I told them to keep racing to see where we would end up. When others were passing me they saw I wasn't going well. I felt it throughout the race, so I wasn't surprised during the finale," he said.
"It's no fun this way, even though I was still in the first main group and racing along. Normally I should be capable of taking the initiative or following the moves, but that wasn't the case today."
Vanmarcke revealed last week that he was suffering with lingering rib pain caused by a crash at Strade Bianche earlier this month. Short of breath when making big efforts, he opted to struggle through Tirreno-Adriatico so as not to lose form ahead of the Classics, and hoped that a visit to the physio last Wednesday would put him back on track.
Seeing him unable to make the slightest impact on Dwars door Vlaanderen, the ribs were the first thing that sprang to mind, but he explained that they weren’t the cause of his malaise.
"The ribs felt better, but today I fell short. I don't know what it was. We'll have to check in the next days what it is but it was something other than the ribs," he explained.
"Until this morning I was worried about the condition and the ribs. Conditionally I felt good. Maybe I had an off-day or maybe something else is starting to come afloat. I don't know what it is. After each climb I was capable of everything but when going flat out on the climbs I wasn't capable of keeping that up. I wasn't able to go to the limit."
The cobbled classics wait for no man, and Vanmarcke will have to hope it’s just a passing problem as attentions immediately turn to E3-Harelbeke on Friday and Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, with just 11 days to go until the Tour of Flanders.
"I'm happy to have raced today – it hasn’t made anything worse," he added. "It’s something that can be gone by tomorrow. I need to take care of myself today and tomorrow and just hope to be stronger on Friday."