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Sep Vanmarcke: ‘Worlds course should suit half of Belgium’

Belgian star hoping for worlds bid ahead of an autumn Paris-Roubaix that will be 'very different from most years.'

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ANTEQUERA, Spain (VN) — Sep Vanmarcke (Israel Start-Up Nation) is hoping to hone his form during the Vuelta a España for a double-whammy finish to 2021.

Like many of the Belgian brawlers, he’s waiting to see if he’ll earn a spot on the Belgian world championships squad for the Leuven worlds.

“The course is good for me, like for every Belgian,” Vanmarcke told VeloNews. “There hasn’t been a selection made yet, so we will see what they decide. [The worlds course] is hilly like the Flemish hills. In theory, it should suit half of Belgium.”

Top-ranked Belgium will start with eight riders for the 267km road race from Antwerp to Leuven on September 26.

With the final part of the circuit course looping around Leuven, many have compared it as a mix of Tour of Flanders and Brabantse Pijl, meaning that the race is ideal for Vanmarcke and all the major Belgian classics stars.

The chance to race for Belgium and perhaps win the rainbow jersey on home roads is propelling all the country’s top stars in the coming weeks in a once-in-a-career opportunity.

The 33-year-old Vanmarcke is winless so far in his debut season in Israel Start-Up Nation colors, but he paced through a solid spring, with fifth in Flanders and a podium with third in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Vanmarcke is racing his first grand tour since the 2018 Tour de France, and told VeloNews he’s crashed twice in the first week, something that’s keeping him out of the fray for the breakaways.

“I have touched the ground two times, so I am recovering from that,” he said. “So stages like [Tuesday] should have suited me, but I am recovering. So it’s not great. We lost already three guys on the team, we are not really strong to go for the breaks. I hope I can recover fast so I can be part of it in the second half.”

Vanmarcke is hoping to show something to the Belgian national team selectors in the latter part of the Vuelta before the final decision is made next month.

Belgium will be one of the top favorites, with a superstar lineup expected to include Wout van Aert, Greg Van Avermaet, Remco Evenepoel, and Jasper Stuyven.

‘It will be a very different Paris-Roubaix’

Even if he doesn’t earn a berth for the worlds, Vanmarcke is also eyeing up Paris-Roubaix, rescheduled for October 3.

Vanmarcke said a variety of factors will be very different in what will be an autumn edition of the spring monument.

“It will be a different approach, and the weather will be very different,” he said. “There are a lot of questions marks.”

COVID-19 has forced organizers to reschedule the race several times. In 2020, the race postponed, rescheduled, and finally canceled. Again in 2021, the spring edition was pushed back to October.

“Let’s hope the race happens,” he said. “I am thinking about this, because the last time they have had to cancel it. Let’s hope now in October we can race it.”

At least for now, the “Hell of the North” remains on the schedule.

While Vanmarcke is using the Vuelta to build for a rare autumn worlds-Roubaix double, other rivals are taking different approaches to the major fall dates.

“It will be a very different Roubaix,” Vanmarcke said. “The time of the year and the shape of the riders will be different. I know everyone will work towards it, and there are the world championships.

“Normally, everyone is used to the traditional buildup toward Roubaix, now everyone is doing different things,” he said. “I am in the Vuelta, other guys are doing one-day races, and other guys are at altitude camp.”