Back in 2012, Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First) stormed into the spotlight at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad when he beat Tom Boonen in the sprint in Gent to take his first pro win. Seven years later, 30-year-old Vanmarcke is known to be a major force to be reckoned with at the Spring Classics but so far, he has failed to convert that into big victories. This year, Vanmarcke showed good form in the Haut-Var where he clinched a sprint victory, his first pro victory since 2016. One week later, though, he experienced a tough day at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the opener of the Belgian cycling season.
At 42 kilometres from the finish, the peloton approached the Molenberg climb. This narrow cobbled climb is known to be decisive in terms of making the first major splits in the peloton. All the big guns seemed to be riding up front when suddenly, television cameras showed a struggling Vanmarcke.
"I don't know why but it wasn't going as I hoped or planned for. I felt good but I noticed that throughout the race my heart rate was higher than it usually is. I don't know why. I didn't expect it but on the Molenberg I suddenly stopped. I was in about fifteenth position but then I had to ease off. Afterwards Lutsenko moved across I was unable to keep up with him. If you can't keep up at the Molenberg it isn't good. Then I talked with Langeveld and he told me there was still something left in his tank. I tried to do what I could but there wasn't much left, and I was trying to make the gap as small as possible for him. It was a disappointment for me to struggle on the Molenberg. I figured that I might as well do something for him. On the Leberg, I got dropped and then I came back in the descent towards the Berendries. Then I knew it was over."
There were still 30 tough kilometres towards Ninove, including the Muur and Bosberg climbs. Vanmarcke finished 92th at 6:27 from winner Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-QuickStep).
Vanmarcke was asked if his showing at the Omloop would have implications for the rest of the season.
"There's a lot of worries now. My season is over," Vanmarcke joked when talking with the media shortly after crossing the finish line in finish town Ninove.
"No, of course it's a pity. It's not something that happens to me that often at the classics. There's a few positive signs to take along with me: I won last week which means that the form is OK. This was probably just a bad day. We're working towards the next few weeks. It was the goal to be good here but that wasn't the case. It'll be a matter of forgetting about this race and continuing my work. This is the first race. It's an important race but it's better to be below par here and be better in the next races."
Next up for Sep Vanmarcke is the Italian stage race Tirreno-Adriatico in two week's time, before heading back to Belgium for the major Spring Classics: E3 Binckbank Classic, Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields, Dwars door Vlaanderen, Ronde van Vlaanderen and probably the race that suits him the most: Paris-Roubaix.