EF Pro Cycling's Sep Vanmarcke has admitted that he was initially left in disbelief when he read that Paris-Roubaix – one of his biggest goals for this season – had been cancelled on Friday. The rescheduled 'Hell of the North' should have taken place on October 25, having been postponed from its usual April calendar slot, but a rise in COVID-19 cases in northern France means that the 2020 edition has now been cancelled entirely.
Vanmarcke told Het Nieuwsblad that he'd returned from a training ride on Friday and saw that he'd missed a number of calls. When he checked the internet, he saw the news of Roubaix's cancellation.
"I thought, 'F*** – it's not possible!' And I was then a bit confused for half an hour," he explained on Saturday, although he could later see the reasoning behind the cancellation.
"If you look at the situation all over the world, it was the right decision," Vanmarcke said. "It can't be right that hospitals are in danger of getting into trouble [due to being overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases] and that we're still racing. But, of course, life has to go on somewhere – otherwise people will panic even more. Perhaps Roubaix could have taken place without any spectators… These are crazy times, for everyone."
At the 2019 edition of Paris-Roubaix, Vanmarcke was left inconsolable after having finished fourth following a jammed rear derailleur on the final major cobbled sector in Gruson. It was the Belgian's third fourth-place finish at the race, and his fifth top-10 result.
"Fortunately, what would have been my build-up to Roubaix will remain the same: Gent-Wevelgem [on Sunday], the Tour of Flanders [October 18] and the Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne [October 21]. Things would be different if all the upcoming races were to disappear," he said. "I've been training for six to seven months to be almost 100 per cent for the first time in my life. I've never lost my morale during this difficult season, even though I have few racing days."
Vanmarcke has ridden a minimal race programme since racing resumed after the enforced break due to the coronavirus pandemic, riding only the Bretagne Classic-Ouest France, the European and Belgian road race championships, and the BinckBank Tour earlier this month in order to try to stay fresh for his cobbled Classics campaign.
The 32-year-old is out of contract with EF Pro Cycling at the end of the season, and when asked whether losing the opportunity to try to increase his market value at favoured-race Roubaix was a concern, Vanmarcke admitted that it remains to be seen what effect this shortened season will have.
"It's different to when Paris-Roubaix is held in April and the market opens," he said. "Now we're going to be at the end October and there won't much to play with when it comes to team budgets. With a win or a podium [at the Classics], there'll perhaps be only a slight increase [in riders' market value]."
At the end of September, Vanmarcke confirmed to Het Nieuwsblad that he had a contract-extension offer on the table from EF Pro Cycling, and that he was "weighing it up against the other offers I have".
"After the last race, I'll make a decision," he said on Saturday. "I've never experienced this before; normally, I'd have a contract settled fairly early, but now everything is different.
"Normally [at this point in the season], I'm only at about 80 per cent of my best. I have never headed towards the winter break in such good condition," said Vanmarcke. "Let's just hope we have a normal spring next season."
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