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Poor positioning and strong crosswinds left LottoNL – Jumbo’s Sep Vanmarcke sprinting for second place at Gent-Wevelgem. Vanmarcke rode tenaciously and tactically only to be out-sprinted by the world champion Peter Sagan in the closing meters of Sunday’s classic. He’ll hope for another, perhaps better, opportunity at Ronde van Vlaanderen, one week later.
Vanmarcke said after the race that it was not his best day — a poor start and windy conditions made it difficult for the team leader to conserve energy for the finale. “The race didn’t start well for me. It [the wind] broke after 65 kilometers of racing, and I have to blame myself for not being in the first group. Jos van Emden brought me in good position just before, but I lost some positions again afterwards,” he said in a team statement.
After missing the first echelon, Vanmarcke had to work hard to bridge the gap. He used the Baneberg climb to make up for lost ground. “That was a nice move, but I’m glad that I recovered before the Kemmelberg. That climb was tough,” he added. After reaching the top of the Kemmelberg just behind Sagan and Fabian Cancellara, Vanmarcke needed to take some risks to ensure a good position in the final few kilometers.
“If I didn’t [take risks on the descent] I wouldn’t have been able to get there [to Sagan and Cancellara] anymore,” Vanmarcke said of his speedy descending.
Vanmarcke joined Tinkoff’s Sagan and Trek – Segafredo’s Cancellara. Soon, they caught the lone leader, Viacheslav Kuznetsov of Katusha. The four riders worked well together, but toward the end, Vanmarcke’s previous efforts appeared to catch up to him — or perhaps he was saving matches for the sprint — and he began to skip pulls at the front, much to the chagrin of his three companions. In the end, he had enough kick to out-sprint Kuznetsov and Cancellara for second behind Sagan.
Following the race, LottoNL sports director Nico Verhoeven said, “The chase took a lot of energy from [Vanmarcke] and it took a lot of time, as well. He almost wasn’t able to play a role in the race final at all. It’s a pity he wasted so much power there.” He noted Vanmarcke’s mistake of not getting in the front group when the wind picked up, 65 kilometers into the race, but remained positive about the finish. “Think of how good he could’ve been if he was in front already from the beginning. It wasn’t a perfect race, but he showed that he is one of the best in these races.”
Vanmarcke looks primed for a run at a monument win with Ronde van Vlaanderen coming up on Sunday. The 27-year-old Belgian has only four professional victories in his eight-year career. His biggest win came in 2012, when he out-sprinted Tom Boonen and Juan Antonia Flecha at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Vanmarcke has three second-place finishes at major classics, two at Gent-Wevelgem (2010 and 2016) and one at Paris-Roubaix (2013). He stood on the third step of the podium in the 2014 Tour of Flanders and just missed the podium at Paris-Roubaix that same year.
Like Vanmarcke, the LottoNL-Jumbo squad is also hungry for a monument win. In its second season with a new sponsor, the team has only eight victories in two years, seven of which are stage wins; the other is a national championship. For a chance at that first monument win, the team will need to keep Vanmarcke protected and well-positioned, while the Belgian will need flawless tactics and a bit of luck to get the better of a deep field of rivals.