Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) has joined the chorus of approval in welcoming the new parcours for the 2014 Tour of Flanders. The Classics specialist has ridden the new route several times since it was unveiled in November and will once again base his season around the spring before riding the Tour de France in July.
The Flanders route has been altered for the second time in three years with the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg remaining the final climbs of the race, however the controversial finishing circuit introduced in 2012 has been dispensed with and some of the longer flat sections in the finale have been removed.
"I've ridden it three times already but that's normal as I live so close by. I like the new parcours though, it's more like the old Flanders. It should be a more open race and while it will not be exactly the same it will have more cobbled climbs in the final and it should be a better race," Vanmarcke told Cyclingnews during the team's training camp in Spain.
Vanmarcke will lead the line for Belkin in next season's spring classics and will once again be targeting the cluster of races that fall within a critical period of the season.
"Omloop is important but Gent-Wevelgem, Flanders and Roubaix are again the top races," he said.
This season Vanmarcke came into the classics on the back of a heavy fall and a resulting torn bursa in Tirreno - Adriatico. Bandaged up for the first few races, the injury seemed to justifiably hold him back in the first few races after his crash. However, second place behind Fabian Cancellara in Paris-Roubaix turned his campaign around and justified Belkin's faith in the 25-year-old.
"A big part of me is disappointed because you don't get so many chances to be that close," he said, "but I knew already I could do a ride like that. In the future I know I can go there and one day win that race."
Much has been made of Vanmarcke's two-up sprint with Cancellara with the Swiss rider using his greater experience, guile, and strength to great effect. Vanmarcke is aware that he faced a level of criticism but is determined to use the experience in a positive live.
"Coming into the velodrome you just focus. You don't pay attention to anything else, so it was just about concentrating on Cancellara and the finish. In hindsight it's easy to ask why I kept riding in the last five kilometres. I don't think it would make a difference if I'd stopped riding, I wouldn't have become a fresh rider all of a sudden. My front brake didn't work any more so I couldn't stop and start on the track so at that moment I at least wanted to be second. With the sprint, we have track riders here and they said I could have done this and that and maybe I made a few small mistakes but I'll never know if that would have made any difference. Theo Bos explained a few things that I could change, but that I won't tell you."
A year older and a year wiser Vanmarcke also has the added bonus of preparing for the Classics without off the bike distractions. This time last year Rabobank left the sport and the team looked uncertain for the future. They rebranded as Blanco before Belkin swiftly stepped in with the funds to save the long term future of the squad. The sponsorship issues may have added an unwanted stress to the management but the team tried to use the experience to bring themselves closer to together and perform on the road.
"No one knew what would happen or how things would develop in the future. Now everyone is relaxed and really focused on the racing and the new goals. That's certainly a good step."
"This year has been a nice step for me. I've been happy on the team and I had the perfect programme. I had some bad luck leading into the Classics with my crash in Tirreno but I'm happy that I was able to take that result in Roubaix. I didn't win but I was still happy to be second.
"Now I've have more confidence. I'm a year older and a year stronger. The team I think has more confidence in me and I've proven to the team that I can do it. I think I can make another step again. I'm not afraid and I should be able to get closer to the top."
Away from the Classics Vanmarcke is also hoping to ride next year's Tour de France. He rode this year's race as a domestique for the team's overall ambitions but next year's race brings an added spice with the opening week peppered with cobbles for the first time since 2010.
"Hopefully I'm good enough and I can do the Tour de France again. If I'd like to win a stage in the Tour during my career of course that's a chance. I won't win in sprints or mountains but I need to have the stages in between or a stage with some cobbles."