Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad marks the first of the Belgian cobblestone races and features many of the familiar hills and sections from Tour of Flanders. It’s a prestigious race to win for any rider, especially a Belgian, something that Israel Start-Up Nation’s new signing Sep Vanmarcke knows everything about.
In 2012, Vanmarcke surprised many when he outsprinted top-favorites Tom Boonen and Juan Antonio Flecha to take the win. Since then, the now 32-year-old Belgian has been a regular contender for any Spring Classic with pavé sections.
After a strong start for his new team, helping out his teammates to secure top results in Etoile de Bessèges and Tour des Alpes-Maritimes et du Var, Vanmarcke is now ready to begin one of the most important parts of his season.
“I don’t want to speak negatively of EF, because it’s not necessary,” said Vanmarcke. “My first choice was to stay with them, but conversations started with Israel. EF wasn’t always about the results. It’s a different system. It was nice at the time, but after a number of years working that way, I wanted to get on a [different] track. Here, it is much more focused on the race and on the results.”
“I can take my chances here, and the team continues to believe in me. As long as I have a good level I think I have a chance of winning. I am now over 30, and I have already been written off by the media.”
“I feel good at the moment.”, said Vanmarcke. “I know I’ve worked well during the winter and now I hope that everything goes well for the weekend and that I can play an important role in Omloop once again. I have already two stage races in the legs, which I believe will be quite an advantage for me compared to the guys who have only done one race or nothing at all. You can always try to replace racing with hard training, but you can’t really replace that race rhythm completely, that’s something you will miss. Both races I did were at a very high level and now I’m heading into the opening weekend in good condition and with confidence. I hope we can repeat what happened in 2012. It won’t be easy, but it wasn’t easy back then either.”
In addition to Vanmarcke, Israel Start-Up Nation brings several other riders suited for this type of racing including Jenthe Biermans, Guillaume Boivin, Reto Hollenstein, Alexis Renard, Tom Van Asbroeck, and Mads Würtz Schmidt.
For Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on the following Sunday, the composition of the team changes slightly, with the addition of the sprinters Hugo Hofstetter, Rudy Barbier and Itamar Einhorn.
Traditionally, the sprinters have a decent chance of fighting for the win in this race. However, the last two editions of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne have seen a lone attacker manage to hold off the peloton with just a handful of seconds to deny the sprinters the glory.