Sep Vanmarcke’s win in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad race last Saturday was a breakthrough for the Belgian rider but in hindsight only a matter of time. Here is a quick look at his past performances in order to help us assess where he goes next.
He started in a club famed for its champion riders and now he could join them as a top Flandrien. There’s also a look at his spectacular crash in the Vuelta last year.
Today he lives in Waregem, just a couple of kilometres from the route of Saturday’s Omloop. He is 1.90 metres (6″3′) tall and weighs in at 76kg for a cyclist.
He was born in Kortrijk in 1988 and his first club was in Deerlijk, nearby. He grew up in a cycling family, his dad raced and brother Ken Vanmarcke is six years senior and first made the pro ranks although at a more modest level with a one year contract in 2009 for Continental team Jong Vlaanderen-Bauknecht.
Schotte, Demeyer, Demol… Vanmarcke
Unlike some riders Vanmarcke didn’t destroy junior cycling from the start. His first year with the KSV Deerlijk-Gaverzicht aged 14 didn’t see a single win. The club has an impressive history, it was formed in 1941 and its first club champion was Alberic “Briek” Schotte, a future World Champion and legend of Flemish cycling. The same club helped Marc Demeyer, Patrick Lefevere, Dirk Demol, Johan Bruyneel and Eric Van Lancker on their way too. Note Van Lancker is today Vanmarcke’s team manager at Garmin-Barracuda and was driving the team car on Saturday.
Back to Sep and if he didn’t win from the start, things picked up in time with three wins the next year and then it was onwards and upwards. In his final year as a junior he took sixth place in the Omloop Het Volk, the old name for the Het Nieuwsblad race.
No wins in his first year as a senior but racing against riders four years older still makes a big difference and Vanmarcke still managed third place in the U-23 Ronde van Vlaanderen. Belgium offers significant resources to promising juniors with dedicated teams and feeder squads designed to channel talent to the main pro teams; in addition significant government funding exists to help oil the wheels here too. He joined the Davitamon-Lotto-Jong Vlaanderen team which later became known as Topsport Vlaanderen, a youth team backed by the Flemish authorities and he was with others like Thomas de Gendt, now with Vacansoleil.
Riding the U-23 category he was a very solid rider… but not stunning. Some riders can win everything in sight only to fade when the sign a pro contract, Vanmarcke instead kept a steady progress with a string of places in the country’s top amateur races. Take his last season as an amateur, in 2009 he was second in the Omloop het Nieuwsblad, fifth in the Ronde van Vlaanderen and more, then he turned pro mid-year and took two top-10 places in stages of the Tour de l’Avenir.
Topsport-Vlaanderen is a modest team but Vanmarcke made the most of the team’s invitations. He took second in Gent-Wevelgem and won the mountains jersey in the Four Days of Dunkirk and took other top-10 places and appeared on my radar screen, a neo-pro taking second in Gent Wevelgem was big and more so since he could have won the race too but didn’t time his sprint right and – see the video above, he was getting cramp in the finish. He made the break with Eisel, Hincapie and Gilbert.
He impressed enough to find Garmin’s Jonathan Vaughters buying him out of his contract. Note there’s nothing sneaky here, top teams can recruit riders from Continental squads and Topsport-Vlaanderen exists in part to send riders on to better things. In 2011 he was 20th in Paris-Roubaix, a vital tactical card in the Garmin team’s win with Van Summeren that day. Injury took its toll with an Achilles problem at the start of the season, plus a crash landing on a knee in May took out much of his summer.
Flying in the Vuelta
Later he rode his first grand tour, the Vuelta. Scan the results and finished no better than 75th in any stage until the penultimate day when he took a fourth place in a bunch sprint. But he made a name for himself in the race for the wrong reasons after he and Karsten Kroon crashed on a descent, hitting the railings and flying into a ravine… and survived to tell cyclingnews.com:
“I kept floating through the air. That’s it, I thought. The buck stops here. It’s over for me. I crashed twice on the ground, with several trees involved, and suddenly I was on the ground. Just before the river. I scrambled right up and heard nothing and nobody. I tried to climb the hill, but it was too steep. They pulled me up with branches… …It was a crucifixion. Everything hurt. I was in shock. Two hours on a stretch on my bike crying.”
There’s blurry gallery of the recovery efforts over at Spanish sports website cadenaser.com.
“Dreaming about the classics!”
His personal life… seems pretty personal. He has a girlfriend but there’s not much more. A peak at his twitter feed reveals an addition to TV series Dexter and he’s trying to get his driver’s licence but most messages are about racing and training. Indeed he seems totally focussed on the job. In an interview with Het Nieuwsblad at the end of last year he “admitted” plans to take a day off the bike to celebrate the New Year with friends.
Where does he go next?
Paris. This Saturday sees the start of the Paris-Nice race. You might have him pegged as a one-day specialist and you’d be right. But stage racing is often essential for extra strength and fitness and besides, he might fancy one or two of the finishes. If not he can repay the support of his team mates.
If he can avoid injury he’ll be certain to ride Roubaix and Flanders and could be a contender, make no mistake about his ride on Saturday where he made the selection, attacked with 20km to go and then sprinted to win with a big margin. Yes Boonen probably used up too much energy but that only underlines that Vanmarcke did not. But the pressure falls on him now, the Belgian media will expect more results and its one thing to deliver a result after 200km but another after 250km. Longer term he is supposed to ride either the Tour de France or the Vuelta again but I suspect his thoughts right now don’t go much further than the velodrome in Roubaix.