COMPIEGNE, France (VN) — Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) hopes history repeats itself in Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix, but with a different ending.
Last year, the big blond Belgian was the only rider strong enough to stay with Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), but he narrowly lost the sprint on the Roubaix velodrome.
After a strong and consistent northern classics campaign, capped by third at the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), Vanmarcke believes his time has come.
“I dream of a similar scenario as 2013, but this time ahead of Cancellara,” Vanmarcke said. “I’ve been good in all the classics so far. I know my form is there.”
Vanmarcke has certainly been impressive so far this spring, finishing in the top five in all the major races he’s started, with the exception of Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs, which he rode in support of Theo Bos.
At Flanders, Vanmarcke was the only rider with the horsepower to follow Cancellara when he made his surge on the Oude Kwaremont. Cancellara won a four-up sprint, once again foiling Vanmarcke.
He admits he’s had enough of bridesmaid status.
“Last year, I was second, this year, I was third at Flanders. I can’t keep fighting for podiums, I need to start fighting for the wins, and I won’t be happy with second,” Vanmarcke told AFP. “Last weekend, I was the only one who could follow Cancellara, and for sure I won’t be in an early attack.”
Yet Belkin only takes confidence out of those performances, because the punishing flats of Roubaix suit the 6-foot-3 Vanmarcke even better than Flanders.
“Sep has proven he is very strong at the moment,” said Belkin sport director Nico Verhoeven. “In all the races until now, we’ve been in the fight for the win, and that gives us a lot of morale. With Sep’s second place in mind from last year, we’ll aim for the victory.”
To support him, Belkin has built up a solid northern classics team over the past 18 months. Also starting as co-leader is former world cyclocross champion Lars Boom. Maarten Tjallingii, third in 2011, and Maarten Wynants, 10th in 2012, bring solid support.
At 25, Vanmarcke is relatively young for the challenges of a race as grueling as Roubaix, a race that typically favors more veteran and experienced riders. But he has already raced it four times, being physically and mentally more mature than his years.
And he has emerged as a legitimate challenger to the cobblestone crown passed between Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Cancellara. The two have won seven of the past 10 editions of “The Hell of the North.”
That’s a streak that Vanmarcke is hoping to end.
“I learned a lot from my race last year. I should have come to a track stand last year on the velodrome to avoid having to lead out the sprint,” Vanmarcke said. “I have more pressure this year, but I also have more confidence. I am ready to race.”