Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Barracuda) doesn't want to be labelled as the next Tom Boonen, or the next Philippe Gilbert. Instead the quietly spoken Belgian wants to make his own mark on the sport of cycling, and principally on the Spring Classics.
In 2010, he broke through with a surprise second place in Gent-Wevelgem, beating Gilbert into third in the process. The ride brought him to the attention of the world's biggest teams, and the 23-year-old was in a position to pick his next team.
Most Belgian riders would understandably side on one of the home grown teams, Quick Step or Lotto but Vanmarcke took a different path, signing for Garmin.
"There were other interested parties," he told Cyclingnews.
"I didn't have many contacts myself, so I talked to some managers and chose which one I wanted to work. Then we sat down with my agents and they asked me which team I wanted to go to because I was in position to choose. I said I wanted to go to Garmin and the team was really interested. And here I am."
"I've always said that if I could have the chance and if I'm good enough, I wanted to go to an international team and I like the American teams. People ask me why, but it's just a feeling I have. It's professional here, it's probably the same in the Belgian teams, but it keeps the pressure off me if I'm here too. Belgium is crazy about cycling so maybe if I'd gone to Lotto or QuickStep they'd have kept asking me when I was going to be 'good'. Here they support me and they believe in me."
Vanmarcke followed up his 2010 Gent-Wevelgem performance with a number of strong performances in 2011. At Topsport he was 'top dog' but his inexperience when compared to his Garmin teammates saw him going in early breaks and marking moves. Despite this, he still managed fourth in E3 Harelbeke and 20th in his Paris-Roubaix.
"Last year I was new in the team, I was injured and then I'd just started racing. I had to go into the breaks, but I was still there in the end of the races, getting fourth in Harelbeke. Now I and the team know that I can be there to contest races so if there's a chance for me."
"I would have done better, maybe, but I'm happy with how things went, that I could learn a lot and do a good job for the team. Of course it would be nice to have big results but that will come in two to three years time."
That confidence and mentality will be key to Vanmarcke's future. This year he has set his sights on Flanders and Roubaix and with no clear leader at Garmin he could find himself with one of the best teams supporting him at his major objectives.
"Compared to last year, I feel a lot better. I think there's not too much pressure on me. The team expects me to race well but so do I. When Thor [Hushovd] was here it was all about him, and that's normal because he's a great rider but now we've got more opportunities, not just for me. We've got a few guys, and I'm just one, who can make the finals or go away just before the finals in races."
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