The Garmin-Barracuda team dives into Paris-Roubaix with two Belgians as their protected men. Last year's winner Johan Vansummeren and Sep Vanmarcke are the riders who're up for a difficult task as they'll face stiff opposition from in-form Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma - Quick Step) who's been dominating the pavé classics during the last few weeks. Vansummeren is the clear team leader while Vanmarcke will be the joker of the team, as it's unclear if he'll recover in time from his throat problems.
On Saturday afternoon Vanmarcke talked with Cyclingnews at the team presentation in Compiègne. The 23-year-old said that his teammate and compatriot Vansummeren had a good chance to repeat his win from last year. "He's super and manages to keep his cool. He deals well with the pressure even though he is much-asked nowadays. During the training on Wednesday he was going real quick over the cobbles. I think he can win it a second time," Vanmarcke said.
"Let there be no doubt about it that Johan is the sole leader. My build-up has been disturbed due to a sore throat; it was something between a cold and the flu."
The protected role for Vanmarcke might seem strange as he's still only 23 year old, but a glance at his record makes it becomes obvious that Vanmarcke is a huge talent for the pavé classics. Back in 2010, in his first year amongst the pros, Vanmarcke already finished as runner-up in Gent-Wevelgem.
Last year Vanmarcke debuted in Paris-Roubaix and quickly it showed that he was capable of riding the cobbles like the best. He worked hard to get into the early breakaway but failed, then started pulling in the group of favorites for then team leader Thor Hushovd. Despite all his efforts he eventually he crossed the line in twentieth position. Afterwards, while still in the vélodrome, he stated that he now believed that he would be at his top in this race rather than in the Tour of Flanders.
One year later Vanmarcke has his first spring classics win in the bag. He beat Tom Boonen in a three-man sprint at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. More than a month later it turns out that Vanmarcke was the only rider who managed to beat Boonen in the sprint. Vanmarcke realized that things turned around although he didn't feel like Boonen already had the win in the pocket.
"He will not simply receive the win although the Tom Boonen we see nowadays seems unbeatable. Then again, if one has a super day and ends up against a tiring Boonen then everything is possible. It's clear that he's in the best position," Vanmarcke said.
Last week in the Tour of Flanders Vanmarcke was unable to live up to the high expectations. The Belgian failed to follow the trio Boonen-Pozzato-Ballan on the last ascent of the Oude Kwaremont and eventually crossed the line in 48th position. According to the 23-year-old it was illness which probably prevented him from going flat out in Flanders. On the eve of the Hell of the North he claimed that the throat problems are now behind him although he didn't know how much it affected his form.
"It's getting better. If I'm ill it always affects me at my throat. It was difficult to breathe properly as my throat was completely shut. I probably picked it up the day before the Ronde van Vlaanderen. That evening I already had a headache and a nose pain. It didn't seem like it was a problem but ont it knocked me down on Sunday night. That's probably why I wasn't feeling super during the Ronde. Now it's quickly improving. Today was the first morning in which I woke up feeling reasonable," Vanmarcke said.
His illness prevented him from getting a normal build-up to a highly demanding race like Paris-Roubaix and time is running out on getting fit at the start of the race. "The whole week I didn't train. Only on Wednesday I did the reconnaissance. That recon was good but my sensations on the bike weren't super. I couldn't pull through until the end like it should be. Now I can only hope that it'll be alright before tomorrow. It's not about super-compensation but about getting ready in time. It'll be tight. The team can count on me if I'm healthy otherwise I can't do anything. If I can breathe properly I can get very far. It' a big question mark. It's a pity that it's happening now."
The Garmin-Barracuda team further includes strong men like Jack Bauer, Tyler Farrar, Heinrich Haussler and Jacob Rathe. Together with pavé specialists Andreas Klier and Martijn Maaskant - the latter finished fourth back in 2008 - the American team should be able to play its role in the Hell of the North on Sunday.