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Sep Vanmarcke wins breakaway sprint to claim victory at Maryland Cycling Classic

Sep Vanmarcke (Israel-Premier Tech) won the inaugural Maryland Cycling Classic in Baltimore on Sunday. The Belgian one-day specialist claimed his first win in three years from a five-man breakaway, out-sprinting Nickolas Zukowsky (Human Powered Health) and Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost).

Toms Skujiņš (Trek-Segafredo) finished off the podium while Andrea Piccolo (EF Education-EasyPost), who reconnected with the breakaway in the final 2.4km was fifth. Piccolo and Powless tried attacking several times on the run-in to the finish but weren't successful in opening a gap.

Piccolo then moved into a lead-out role for Powless and picked up his pace for a sprint inside 800 metres. Vanmarcke made his winning move with 300 metres to go, launching off Piccolo's efforts, and although he was nearly caught on the line by a charging Zukowsky, he held on for the victory.

Between the mix of four WorldTour teams, two ProTeams and 10 Continental squads, all eyes were on the major teams to make the race, but few expected the winning move would be decided in the first 20 kilometres.

Vanmarcke was part of a 25-rider move that formed on the run-out from Sparks through unexpectedly arduous terrain. Teams like Trek-Segafredo, EF-EasyPost and Israel-Premier Tech set out to make the race hard, but it turned out to be such a demanding race that more than half of the peloton was pulled in the final circuits.

"We thought it wouldn't be a sprint, because the first part was demanding," Vanmarcke said. "But the final lap didn't seem to be too hard. So we thought it could be a sprint. Anyway, pretty soon in the race, there was a big breakaway and because every team had a couple of guys involved, the peloton had to let it go. And from then on, actually, from the start, it became a hard race.

After 194km of heat and four 12km laps around Baltimore's Inner Harbour, the race became even more selective.

"The final was attacking, attacking and making sure you make the right moves and the last lap we were only with four guys anymore," Vanmarcke said. "It was very tactical, but me personally, I felt strong. I was probably the fastest so I tried to keep the guys who attacked close to me. And anyway, it worked out ... I had to go all in and just made it to the finish line."

Powless, a pre-race favourite, said taking third was "bittersweet" because the team also had Magnus Cort in the larger move.

"I really felt like everything we did all day – with putting so many guys in the breakaway and then making the selection in the breakaway – we were really the ones pushing the pace most of the day, and we knew we had a good chance with Magnus," Powless said. "In the end, I'm disappointed because I knew when I got up the road, Magnus was giving up his opportunity to sprint. It's a shame I couldn't finish it off, because I know he would have had a really strong sprint as well.

"So yeah, it's bittersweet. It's really nice to be on the podium of the American race and I'm super happy to be here but it was so close to being in first place. But I'll take this for now."

How it unfolded

After four long years of planning and two cancellations amid the pandemic, the Maryland Cycling Classic finally got underway in Sparks, Maryland with 194 demanding kilometres of searing pavement standing between the 112 riders and the finish line in Baltimore's Inner Harbour.

After the rollout from Kelly Benefits headquarters, the attacks flew immediately on the undulating country roads, with USA Cycling's Hugo Scala sparking the move that saw 25 riders forging clear.

Tearing up the script of lower-level riders going for TV time, this high-quality move contained riders from all four WorldTeams – with EF Education-EasyPost putting leader Neilson Powless, Magnus Cort, Andrea Piccolo and Tom Scully in the move, Trek-Segafredo tossed Quinn Simmons, Toms Skujins and Alexander Kamp up the road, BikeExchange covered the move with Nick Schultz, Damien Howson and Alexandre Balmer, while Israel-Premier Tech had Sep Vanmarcke, Krists Neilands and Jenthe Biermans in the breakaway.

Also in the attack were Kyle Murphy and Nick Zukowsky (Human Powered Health), David Lozano (Novo Nordisk), Tiano Da Silva (ProTouch) and Robigzon Oyola and Walter Vargas (Medellin), Darren Rafferty (Axeon Hagens Berman), and Michael Pincus (Team Skyline), Eder Frayre (L39ION), Aaron Wade (EvoPro).

Chasing for much of the first 50km was Sam Boardman (L39ION) but he never managed to make it across as the large escape gained over two minutes on the bunch.

On one of the many hills with 138km to go, Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco) sensed the train was leaving the station and he jumped away to go across to the leaders while the gap hovered at two minutes. He didn't make it, and neither did another counter with teammate Dylan Groenewegen, Jacopo Mosca (Trek-Segafredo), Felix Stehli (EF Education-EasyPost), Guillaume Boivin (Israel-Premier Tech), and Human Powered Health duo Pier-André Côté and Arvid De Kleijn.

With 125km to go the leaders had four minutes on the peloton. Powless jumped clear for the KOM with 121km to go, with the surge being joined by his EF-EasyPost teammates in an attempt to reduce the lead group. The effort halved the escape group, with Simmons taking the KOM points.

The peloton behind was also becoming decimated by the heat, humidity and relentless hills. Left in the front were Simmons, Skujins, Howson, Schultz, Balmer, Vanmarcke, Biermans, Powless, Cort, Piccolo, Lozano, Zukowsky and Oyola, who led the front group across the second KOM.

As the race approached the four local circuits, the leaders' advantage was down to 2:20, Robin Carpenter (Human Powered Health) attacked with Tony Gallopin (Trek-Segafredo), picking up Murphy, Frayre and Neilands, and began to claw their way across to the front group, now down to 12 riders.

Simmons sealed the KOM prize by taking out the final mountain sprint, while Biermans won the intermediate sprint bonus en route to the circuits.

Behind, sprinters Matthews and Giacomo Nizzolo (Israel-Premier Tech)  joined a small chasing group along with Canadian champion Côté, Callum Ormiston and Kent Main (ProTouch), Oscar Sevilla (Medellin), Michael Foley (Toronto Hustle), Noah Granigan (USA) and Tyler Williams (L39ION) but at the start of the circuits, they were joined by what was left of the peloton and had what seemed like an unassailable gap of over seven minutes.

It seemed certain that the race would be decided between the leaders, but a few desperate groups fought in between, with Jens Keukeleire and Simon Carr (EF-EasyPost) and Otto Vergaerde (Trek-Segafredo) two minutes behind the Gallopin group and 6:30 behind the front of the race.

The leading group splintered on the closing laps, with Vanmarcke, Powless, Skujinš and Zukowsky tackling the last two laps with Piccolo dangling behind. Zukowsky and Skujinš tried to distance their rivals, but when Piccolo made it back to help Powless, the five riders knew the race would be decided in a sprint.

Vanmarcke opened up the sprint early into the fading sunlight, and while Zukowsky came on strong with a late surge, he fell just shy of the victory, while Powless held on for third.

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Managing Editor

Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Managing Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. As former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks. Laura's beat is anti-doping, UCI governance and data analysis.

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