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“I was really strong in those races - like Cancellara, of course. We probably were the strongest two in the field, although Van Avermaet was also really strong.”

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SEP VANMARCKE

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19.12.2014 @ 12:49 Posted by Joseph Doherty

Sep Vanmarcke is Belgium’s next big hope to win a Cobbled Monument, after strong showings in 2013 and 2014, he says he is ready to step up from being a podium finisher to being the winner himself, as he takes over the mantle of being the Flanders fans favourite after Tom Boonen.

 

In 2013, Vanmarcke showed his class, finishing second behind Fabian Cancellara in Roubaix, finally coming through on the promise he showed when he won the 2012 Het Nieuwsblad. In 2014, he was constantly there in the finale of the cobbled races: 4th at Omloop, 3rd at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, 5th at E3 Harelbeke, 4th at Gent-Wevelgem, 3rd at De Ronde and 4th at Paris-Roubaix. No one was as consistent as Vanmarcke, and only Fabian Cancellara was arguably stronger.

 

“I don’t think about it a lot but, yeah, if I think back, I was really strong in those races – like Cancellara, of course,” Vanmarcke tells Cyclingnews. “And if you count those races together, then we probably were the strongest two in the field, although if you look separately at the Tour of Flanders, then Van Avermaet was also really strong.”

 

It is a mark of Vanmarcke’s quality and high standards that despite his strong performance, he wasn’t entirely happy with his campaign, as he failed to take a cobbled win.

 

“Straight after the Classics season I wasn’t overly happy because I really wanted to win a big race and it didn’t happen,” he says. “But now after, what, half a year, I have to be satisfied because I was strong in every race, not just a few races. In every Classic I did, I was up there and I’m still only 25. Each year I’m getting better and better and now I’m looking forward to next season. I hope to make another step.”

 

One change Vanmarcke will have to cope with in 2015 is being the sole leader of the cobbled team, after Lars Boom left for Astana. But Vanmarcke pointed out that he was the sole leader for almost all of the Classics, as Boom was only in the top 50 for Het Nieuwsblad and Paris-Roubaix.

 

“I think this year it was the first time that I was a [sole] leader and my teammates said that it was the first time that they had a real leader who they knew would be fighting there at the finish for the win,” Vanmarcke says. “So they’ve got a lot of confidence and experience now and it’s the same for me. If they have confidence in me, they will work harder for me and then I can have more confidence in myself too.”

 

Vanmarcke is not just up against Boonen and Cancellara, but their whole team too. There is a scary statistic that exists: 17 of the last 20 editions of Flanders and Roubaix have been taken by Cancellara, Boonen or one of their teammates. He also has to contend with riders who are faster finishers than him, like Sagan, Demare, Kristoff and Degenkolb. His only ally may prove to be van Avermaet, who is just as strong and lacks a real kick against the fast men.

 

“I’m sure the races are more open now. Like I said, they [Boonen and Cancellara] are definitely not getting stronger and people like me and, for example, [John] Degenkolb and [Greg] Van Avermaet, are getting closer to their best level and still getting better. The gaps were getting closer last year and it will get even closer this year I think.”

 

Sagan’s move to Tinkoff-Saxo may make him more of a force to be reckoned with, but it is Kristoff who Vanmarcke sees as the biggest threat.

 

“He was only a little bit behind the strongest guys on the cobbles this year so one day he will be there,” he warns. “For me it’s a big problem to beat him the sprint, and it’s the same with Degenkolb and a few more guys who are just faster than me. I need to get rid of them…”

 

But going to a sprint doesn’t mean defeat for Vanmarcke, as he beat Tom Boonen, a fast finisher, to win the 2012 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

 

“I don’t think I have to be alone to win but I just need to have a super day, like when I beat Boonen. To win a sprint, I need a day like that. That’s the problem but I don’t think it’s impossible.”

 

One benefit Vanmarcke has is that he lives virtually on the Flanders course, so he knows the roads really well, which will help him gain an advantage over the others come that Sunday in March.

 

“It’s close to my home so it’s a perfect training route. Time goes fast when you ride on it, it’s interesting and every time you do it you get to know the course a little bit better,” he says. “Nobody can know the road as well as I do. I know every rock and every hole in the ground because it’s just my training location.”

 

He doesn’t need much racing to get into shape for the Classics either, as he only really takes part in one stage race before the cobbles and doesn’t go to the Middle Eastern Classics prep races in Qatar and Oman.

 

“I don’t need a lot of races. One small stage race is enough for me because I can suffer enough in training if I want and that’s how I prepare. I don’t need those ten or fifteen race days,” he explains.

 

Vanmarcke didn’t win a cobbled race in 2014, but he did win stages at both the Tour of Norway and the Tour of Alberta. In 2015, he will be looking to win another cobbled race, but he also has his eyes on the Worlds course, which features a cobbled climb. He hopes he and van Avermaet will be allowed to lead the Belgian squad ahead of the likes of Boonen and Gilbert. He also hopes to return to the Tour de France to win the cobbled stage there, which his teammate Boom won this year.

 

“I think it’s almost time that Van Avermaet and I can change positions with Boonen and maybe Gilbert,” Vanmarcke says. “We’re getting better. We’re up there in every big race, in the finals, fighting for the win. So I think for me as well, I’m ready to take another step.”

 

“I think every time I have a chance to have a stage on the Tour de France that goes over cobbles, I have to try to win it,” he says of Tour de France stage 5 to Amiens.

 

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