After a four-year stint at the team from Jonathan Vaughters, Belgian Classics specialist Sep Vanmarcke signed a three-year deal for Israel Start-Up Nation. The 32-year-old quadruple Paris-Roubaix and double Tour of Flanders podium finisher once again targets these two Monuments in 2021.
The last few years, his run for glory was often marred by a crash during the preceding races. At Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, at the 115km-mark, there was a crash in the peloton with Vanmarcke.
“Once again I managed a faceplant. It seems to be a key part of my Classics campaign. If I can make up for that with a podium then it’s fun,” Vanmarcke said with a smile at the post-race mixed zone in Ninove.
“It’s the third time that I’m finishing third here and the fourth time that I’m on the podium. One can say that I have a subscription but it’s been a while since I’ve been on the podium and raced for the win. The last two years I wasn’t able to do that,” Vanmarcke said.
The Israel Start-Up Nation team features big names but they’re not in their prime, for example Chris Froome (35), Daryl Impey (35), Dan Martin (34), Michael Woods (34) and André Greipel (38). Vanmarcke jokingly claimed they were a team of ‘old blokes’ but he considered it to be a positive asset.
“We’re strong guys with a lot of experience. Surely the team wants to expand with young talents but in order to do so you need to set the foundations of the team first. That’s possible with experienced riders. They’re walking the right path but one has to want to look at it in a positive way too,” Vanmarcke explained.
Vanmarcke got back into the race after his crash, where the peloton rolled on towards the hill zone as he tried to trying to work his way back into winning-contention.
“After a pursuit back to the peloton I needed some time to recover," he said. "Then the team delivered me to the front of the peloton before the Molenberg where I featured among the first ten or twelve riders."
A group of 13 strong riders, including three Deceuninck-QuickStep riders, powered towards Vanmarcke’s feared Berendries with the peloton already trailing them by half a minute.
“Alaphilippe then turned the race upside down,” Vanmarcke said. The world champion accelerated away on the Berendries and nobody was able to bridge back up to him.
“It’s his good right but in hindsight it wasn’t the smartest move. He was alone in front but in our group the good vibe was gone. Everybody was close to their limit and the QuickStep riders played their role by disturbing the rhythm. We were caught back and after the Muur, it was clear that surprisingly enough it was going to be a bunch sprint.
"For me, it meant that I was going to work for Tom Van Asbroeck but shortly before the finish he was caught behind by a crash. He already had his share of bad luck during this race. It was an emergency situation and even though I had spent a lot of time riding in the wind during the final ten kilometres, I wanted to try and finish in the top-10 for the team. I was moving up through the group and suddenly I was on the wheel of the winner. I knew that it was the right wheel that would allow me to get on the podium. It was just enough.”
Ballerini easily powered away from Vanmarcke towards the win. Vanmarcke was passed only by Jake Stewart (Groupama-FDJ) but he narrowly held off Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain Victorious) to salvage the podium result.
That was quite the trick Vanmarcke pulled off and he was asked about the magic.
“It’s a mixture of many factors. Everybody was tired. It was cold. Experience was key, too, but I couldn’t do it without good form. I was confident about my form but doubts because of the previous two years when my race was over at the Berendries. I didn’t want to make predictions but really hoped to play my part today,” Vanmarcke said.
By displaying this good form, Vanmarcke is on the right path for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, even though it’s still a month before these Monuments are contested.
“I hope to stay at this level. I can’t say that I’m still building up at this point. It’s about staying healthy and walking the thin line between falling sick and staying fit. During the next races I want to keep my form and stay fresh between the races. This is a really good start for me.”
The road to the classics for Vanmarcke leads by Le Samyn next week and then the week-long Paris-Nice stage race.
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