Until Sunday's Maryland Cycling Classic, Sep Vanmarcke – once a persistent podium finisher in the Classics – had been assigned the role of helper. Injury and illness had thrown a spanner into his 2022 plans and the UCI's WorldTour points scheme had forced the team to chase results from the top 10 scoring riders.
But, with 200 points in the bag thanks to his first win in three years, Vanmarcke is now among that top 10 and is likely to be freer to take his chances in a slew of one-day races through the season's end.
Israel-Premier Tech are the newest WorldTour team and have been heavily hampered in the WorldTour relegation/promotion system which takes into account results by the top 10 riders each year for three years. 2023 is the first year a team will be relegated, with only 18 teams allowed in for the next three-year cycle. Israel-Premier Tech have been stuck in 20th place for most of the year.
So it's no small feat to win a ProSeries race (worth 200 points) and it puts a big dent in the team's 1000+ point deficit to Movistar in 18th, but for Vanmarcke it's freeing on several levels. Before the race, he talked about having to work for riders like sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo to help the team gain points. After, a more jubilant Vanmarcke looked to a more ambitious future.
"Personally, I'm of course really happy. Yeah, I was supposed to work – and I was working actually because I was covering breakaways. At one point, we were in with three guys in the big breakaway," he said of the 25-rider move that went clear in the first half hour. "We were supposed to work for Nizzolo, so at that point, I was not going full in the breakaway, because I had a job to do."
But, with half the race still to go, EF Education-EasyPost put in a surge to split the escape and halved their numbers.
"We ended up at 12 [riders] and it was clear that we would stay away. So then I did my pulls like everybody did. And yeah, so it also was my chance from then on to get back in the points. And if I couldn't win this race, I would be back enough in front to go for the finals in the next races also – so first of all, I'm really happy."
Vanmarcke hasn't been the Classics giant of previous years since he was part of EF in 2019 when he last won a race in the Bretagne Classic, and along with suffering through the pandemic like everyone else, this year struck particularly hard.
"It's been a while since I won a race. It's been already a few years ago that I was always on top of the game. And now with getting older  it's not that easy any more with all the stronger young riders. So that's pretty nice to then finally win the race again.
"Next to that I also had a pretty tough year, because last winter I had a lot of knee problems. In the spring, I went from illness to illness, and I had to work hard to come back. The whole summer, I'm on a good level but somehow it didn't work. I didn't get big results, which was pretty frustrating."
Even leading into the trip to North America, Vanmarcke ran into trouble and missed one of his key targets.
"Two weeks ago, I bruised my ribs in a race in Europe, and I couldn't start in Plouay in GP de Bretagne, which is an important race for me," said Vanmarcke. "So I was disappointed but I guess maybe the extra rest I had to take was good for today.
"I'm happy to get back to a victory like this and it's motivating for the last weeks in the season."
The last weeks will be packed with one-day races which, thanks to the UCI's scoring system, are disproportionately valuable compared with Grand Tour stages or GC results. Getting out of the relegation zone will be a big challenge but Vanmarcke sees the team continuing and him with it regardless of their status in 2023.
"It's a different kind of racing than everybody would like. But that's the situation now also, we do many races and the pressure is on.
"We were told that next year, the team will continue and for sure, I wouldn't try to get out of it. I mean, I signed to be three years with a team. And of course, everybody hopes to stay in the WorldTour. But if it's not, then we can still have a nice programme, we will still do many big races, and I will still focus on the same.
"I want to keep a good level," Vanmarcke said before the race and, somewhat presciently added, "maybe in the future, my position will change. As long as I like cycling, and I like to work hard, and the team likes the job I do, then it's good."
So look for Vanmarcke now in the Grand Prix de Québec and Montréal, GP de Wallonie and up to a dozen more one-day races through October. Now that he's one of Israel-Premier Tech's top 10 scoring riders, he'll have a lot more freedom to get results.
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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Managing Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. As former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks. Laura's beat is anti-doping, UCI governance and data analysis.