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ROUBAIX, France (VN) — Sep Vanmarcke should be thrilled.
He finished second at Paris-Roubaix after a crash at Tirreno-Adriatico dented his form for these northern classics, and nearly merited knee surgery. He’s only 24, and destined — as much as anyone is, at least — to win a cobbled monument.
But “should” never did much for anyone, notably bike racers. And it’s not doing much for the young Blanco rider, who lost the Queen of the Classics by inches to RadioShack-Leopard’s Fabian Cancellara on Sunday in a sprint at the Roubaix velodrome.
“I know I should be proud because first of all I’m so young,” he said. “In Tirreno I crashed on my knee. First they talked about surgery; all my goals for the Flanders classics were gone. We knew the only goal was Paris-Roubaix. I know I should be proud, but it’s so disappointing when you get so close, and the problem is when you start believing in the victory it makes it harder.”
Vanmarcke was rightfully heartbroken here on a sunny day that finally began to break winter’s frosty grip on the northern classics, which has made hard racing that much harder.
The young Belgian matched Cancellara’s withering attack inside 5km, and looked reasonably good on the late-race cobbled sectors, at times putting meters between himself and the big Swiss.
Good to his word on Friday, Cancellara refused to pull his rival all the way to the line only to get out-sprinted in the velodrome, and implored Vanmarcke to work. The harder he worked, the closer he was getting to a sprint, which he wanted badly.
“The further we got in the kilometers, I really started to believing in the victory. I know I’m strong after a hard race,” Vanmarcke said, thinking to himself, “I have a strong finish, I have a strong finish.”
“[Cancellara] asked me a couple of times how I felt, and I think the only real answer I think anyone can give is ‘I’m fucked,’ but yeah, first I didn’t want to get dropped, I just wanted to get to Roubaix,” Vanmarcke said.
“I knew I couldn’t drop him, I wasn’t strong enough for that. I wanted to get to Roubaix and sprint for it, that was my only option.”
Cancellara led into the velodrome, but came to a near stop high on the banking of the first turn, forcing the Blanco rider to come around and pull. A lap later, Vanmarcke was still on the front, and Cancellara took him at the line.
“Fabian was a little bit stronger,” Vanmarcke said.
Cancellara, meanwhile, gave credit to his rival.
“He did a fantastic race. Everyone did his maximum. I tried to go away, but there was nothing anymore,” he said.
“Of course, Sep Vanmarcke will have his future. He will have other possibilities … I’m happy for him. A few weeks ago he was in Tirreno, with a bad crash out.”
Sep Vanmarcke should be happy. And next year, he should be stronger.