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Vanmarcke turns on the heat to lead Garmin’s classics charge

Young Belgian will lead Garmin at Flanders and Roubaix

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HARELBEKE, Belgium (VN) —  In a intriguing move by a squad that boasts the defending Paris-Roubaix champion and a previous Tour of Flanders podium finisher, Garmin-Barracuda brass have appointed 23-year-old Sep Vanmarcke to lead the team in the upcoming cobbled classics.

“Sep’s our leader for all of the classics coming up,” the team’s sports director, Allan Peiper told VeloNews. “He’s the leader, you can only go with your best guys and play them.”

The 23-year-old Belgian finished fifth Friday in E3 Harelbeke, continuing what has been a strong classics campaign. He took his breakthrough and debut victory in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last month and on Wednesday, placed seventh in Dwars door Vlaanderen.

Garmin turned the heat on in the last 60 kilometers today despite losing David Millar to a crash. Vanmarcke followed Tom Boonen (OmegaPharma-Quick Step) on the Taaienberg and later on the Paterberg, both climbs featured in the Tour of Flanders next Sunday. The young Belgian’s face was one of the most-frequently seen at the front Friday, when he put in a number of his own accelerations late in the race.

His fifth place behind winner Boonen on Friday only confirms Peiper’s choice.

“He had a difficult moment going up the Knokteberg, came back, recovered and was on the front on the Varentstraat [cobbled sector] and then played his cards very well, being in Boonen’s wheel for the sprint,” Peiper added. “He’s still young, but he’s learning how to do it and who to look out for.”

Vanmarcke debuted in 2010 with Pro Continental team Topsport Vlaanderen, but really came into his own with Jonathan Vaughters’ Garmin team last year. He became a household name, at least in the Flanders region where he was born, after his Nieuwsblad win in Ghent last month.

“He’s just the same kid and he won’t change. He’s really down to earth,” Peiper continued. “He even said the other day, ‘I don’t need to have a leader’s role,’ but for team tactics you need to make things clear about who, what and when.”

Vanmarcke, who lives 500 meters from the finish of Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen, said the new responsibility from the team changed his frame of reference headed into the biggest one-day races of the season.

“Now, I’m a team leader, so in that way, my life’s changed,” Vanmarcke told VeloNews. “Before I was just hoping to do good and get as far as possible; now everyone has confidence and believes in me. That’s really something huge for me.”

He will skip Ghent-Wevelgem Sunday, where his team will ride for Tyler Farrar, and turn his attention to Flanders and Roubaix.

“Everyone hopes I can have good results, but they don’t put pressure on me, they just say, ‘we believe in you and will work for you because you are the best.’ If there was pressure, I wouldn’t let it get to me anyway,” he added.

“My dream was to win one of the big classics, and to have won one already is big for a rider my age. Now there are only two big classics left for me: Flanders and Roubaix. I hope to be flying in one of them.”

He admitted his team is weakened without Millar, who fractured his right collarbone, and Ramunas Navardauskas. The team, however, is rich in talent with Farrar, Andreas Klier, Roubaix winner Van Summeren, Martijn Maaskant and Heinrich Haussler. “The team still has options,” he said.

“I only ride about five classics to race and I want to be as good as possible. The guys rode incredibly well for me today and I have to give something back to them. I have to ride as hard as possible for them.”