DOHA (VN) — Barry Markus (Vacansoleil-DCM) essentially won twice in the last two days of the Tour of Qatar. They are not Xs in the victory column, but count nearly as much when considering the 21-year-old was sprinting behind the best in the business, Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
“I’m not sure how [to beat Cavendish]. I’m hoping to become stronger and to beat him, but right now, he’s too strong. I try every day but so far, I’ve been second,” Markus told VeloNews. “I’ve come second twice now and I’m going better and better. Every day it’s a fight for the good position, but it’s going good.”
The Dutchman responded quietly and modestly, seemingly unaccustomed to attention from the international press.
Markus was impressive in the youth categories, one of The Netherlands’ best riders. He joined Rabobank’s Continental team, where he faded away from the spotlight due to the team’s interest in more mountainous races.
Michel Cornelisse, sports director for Vacansoleil, kept an eye on him the whole time. They both come from the same area near Amsterdam, so it was easy to remember the name: Barry Markus.
“We knew that he was a very good sprinter, so we took him early; he was 20 years old,” Cornelisse said.
Vacansoleil took him out from under its rival Dutch team. It brought him in as a stagiaire in 2011 and signed him as a neo-pro for 2012.
“Last year, he already did a few good things,” Cornelisse said. “Now we see he’s taken a step forward and he’s very close. He’s one meter behind, half a bike — that’s very good for a young guy who’s 21 years old.”
Markus lives near the Schiphol Airport outside of Amsterdam. He flew from there to debut in Vacansoleil’s colors at the 2011 Tour of Britain. He placed fourth in the first leg while — a race Cavendish also won.
“I’ve never heard of him before,” Cavendish said Wednesday. “He seems all right. … He’s pretty good. He’s got a good team, and now he’s got one of the best leaders with [Juan Antonio] Flecha in the team. He’s a really good guy to show a guy experience.”
“I always mix him up with Michael Barry, but he’s a lot better sprinter!” Brian Holm, sports director for Omega Pharma told VeloNews. “He’s a good surprise. I like when young kids come through.”
Cornelisse put the team to work for Markus in Qatar’s sprints. Yesterday they missed out, but that doesn’t erase two runner-up finishes behind Cavendish.
“Cavendish is the best in the world. If Cavendish wasn’t here, then he’d be very close. That’s a big step for a 21-year-old boy,” Cornelisse said. “It’s also important for his head, that he starts believing in himself. Also, on the first day when we put the whole team behind him and he still was able to do the work and get second. … He showed that he was comfortable with it.”
Markus began the year at the Santos Tour Down Under, scoring a fifth and eighth place. His ability to move through the group may come from racing on the track in the winter. Last year, he won the Dutch Madison title.
“He’s very good at finding his position and finding Cav’s wheel,” said Holm. “He’s not the only one trying to do that. And being able to keep it is another thing. He could be the new man or he could be gone next year, you never know.”
Vacansoleil will take Markus to more of the lower-ranked stage races this year to help him put Xs in the victory column. Cornelisse mentioned the Eneco Tour and the Tour of Poland.
“He’s made a big step in Qatar,” Cornelisse said. “If he continues like this, taking another step next year, maybe he will beat Cavendish.”