After struggling on Wednesday in Dwars door Vlaanderen, Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac) hoped that his ride in the E3 Harelbeke would show that his good form hadn't vanished. During the race on Friday, the 28-year-old Belgian impressed when he bridged up to the favourites group on the Boigneberg. From there, his body refused to co-operate, and Vanmarcke started throwing up, lost contact with the leaders on the Oude Kwaremont and finished the race in the peloton.
"I felt really good today and hoped that the problems would only occur on Wednesday," Vanmarcke said shortly after crossing the finish line. "Before the Taaienberg they crashed in front of me and I got held up, but I managed to come back quite quickly."
By that time, a strong group with eventual winner Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors), Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora Hansgrohe) and Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale) was up the road.
A few kilometres later, the Boigneberg awaited the riders and that's where Vanmarcke made his move. "On the Boigneberg I jumped to the group with Van Avermaet and Gilbert." Vanmarcke was accompanied by Luke Durbridge (Orica-Scott) and Sascha Modolo (UAE Abu Dhabi).
With more than 60 kilometres left to the finish in Harelbeke, Vanmarcke found himself in a great position to battle for the victory. Other strong riders like Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Tom Boonen (Quick-Step Floors) would not be chasing their teammates in front. Still, it turned out to be impossible as Vanmarcke started struggling a few kilometres later on the Eikenberg.
"I've gone really deep in that move. I felt really good until the race exploded. From there, it started going downhill. Before reaching the finish I probably threw up about twenty times. It was only getting worse. I wasn't recovering at all and wasn't able to follow the moves too," Vanmarcke said.
"Once I got there [in front] it was no longer possible to work along. I was just hanging on and hoping that I would survive every climb. The Kwaremont was too much to handle. Every gel, every sip I took went straight out. I think my breakfast came out too. I don't know. It's a pity."
From the Oude Kwaremont on, there were still 37 kilometres left to race and Vanmarcke was soon caught back by the first peloton. Two days earlier, Vanmarcke wasn't able to push himself to the limit in Dwars door Vlaanderen. That day, he also had visited the bathroom much more than he wanted. He didn't know if it was a simple off-day or illness. The last few days he felt better so he hoped his worries would've been over. It wasn't the case.
"It's a real pity because I'm at a good level. If I'm at my normal level then they don't drop me on the Oude Kwaremont, because that's my thing. Then I would be able to fight for the victory. This time around, once I got there at the Eikenberg, I was just throwing up."
His confidence ahead of the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix received a big blow. "Of course. These are the races you're training for. I don't know what's going on but it's keeping me from performing. There's not much I can do. Hopefully the doctor is able to do something. It's very frustrating."
Vanmarcke didn't know if skipping Ghent-Wevelgem would be an option in order to get fit ahead of the Ronde van Vlaanderen. "I don't know about that. We'll have to check with the team and the doctor."