Sep Vanmarcke is making his Israel Start-Up Nation debut at Étoile de Bessèges this week, but the Belgian is once again building the first half of his season around the Spring Classics. Vanmarcke, 32, moved to his new team at the start of the year, having called time on his second stint at Slipstream Sports at the end of 2020.
The former Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner was enticed to join a team that now included Chris Froome and Michael Woods because of the space and autonomy he would have in the cobbled Classics and the hope that time hasn't run out for him to land a first Monument.
"A year ago, before COVID came I had it in my mind that I would stay because I really liked EF and the team," he recently told Cyclingnews.
"With the lockdown and no racing there was time to think about the future. I remember when I turned professional and I had a conversation with an older pro and he said if I can give you one bit of advice it's to not stay too long with one team during your career because if you stay too long you get used to the team, even if you like it."
Vanmarcke said he admired how ISN have moved up to the WorldTour from the Continental ranks in recent years, adding that he's excited about their high aims.
"So we talked to teams and Israel were interested. I liked how the team was built up, and how they had started as a Continental team and then moved up through Pro Conti and then into the WorldTour. It feels like they are growing fast and they're not finished with their current position.
"They want to aim high and I like being part of that. That happened with Jumbo, when I joined they were at the bottom, and that happened again with the team that turned into EF and now I'm part of a team that will do this again. It's really motivating, you see the team growing and everyone in the team is motivated to grow with them."
Vanmarcke's early season plans were affected by race postponements due to COVID-19 numbers but his spell in France has no doubt come as a boost ahead of Opening Weekend, which is scheduled for the end of this month and with Nils Politt leaving for Bora-Hansgrohe, Vanmarcke has the chance to have complete leadership for the races that defined his career.
"They also have a good plan for me around the Classics. I could be the leader for the Classics and I could be a helper for other riders in the GC races and the sprints. I felt that they really believed in me for the next few years," he said
"Normally I'll be the leader for the Classics and I hope to have a really good level in those races. There biggest guy for the Classics last year was Politt and he left the team. So me together with some of the younger talents will head together towards the Classics and normally I'll lead the team. I knew that Politt was leading when I signed."
At EF Education First, Vanmarcke was surrounded by a deeper pool of Classics riders, with Alberto Bettiol and Sebastian Langeveld among those on the books. Strength in depth is trait that constantly wins races, especially in the one-day arenas of Flanders and Roubaix, but Vanmarcke believes that having a single leader can also have its benefits and that there's more up and coming talent at ISN that first meets the eye.
"I know that last year there were some bigger names in the team for the Classics but that doesn't always make the biggest difference," he said. "Of course you want to have two or three guys in the final but I know that it happens sometimes.
"It happened when Alberto won Flanders but there are times when one guy has a crash, one has a puncture and one has a bad day. I learned that when I was with Jumbo that people from the outside thought the team wasn't strong enough or I had to do everything alone but I was always in the front and sometimes when you're alone you make the right choices.
"We have some young talents here that people still don't know, like Alexis Renard who was in my training group at camp. I think that if I can teach them a bit how to race the Classics then they will get a lot further in the Classics. It's not always better to have good names on paper."
Vanmarcke will be able to rely on a good Classics support squad at ISN, with André Greipel, Jenthe Biermans, Mads Würtz Schmidt and Tom Van Asbroeck all expected to feature, while the experience in the team car was another reason for Vanmarcke to choose the team. The move sees him link up with former Monument winners, Erik Van Lancker and Dirk Demol.
"Erik is the calm person, who has everything well organized and Dirk is the guy to motivate the riders and who can push them to go into the red. It's a perfect combination to have those two in the car.
"Dirk and I have talked about working together before and we've been close to doing that with RadioShack and Trek but it never happened but now he's said it's third time lucky and finally it's happened. With Erik, he's been my DS before and he was my DS when I won Omloop. It's a strong duo to have in the car."
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Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.
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