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Sep Vanmarcke is the classics nearly man, coming close to big wins year after year.
The Belgian star at Israel Premier Tech is now in a race against time just to get to back to his familiar status as a pre-race favorite.
“The ‘opening weekend’ will not be my goal, but I have some time before Flanders and Roubaix,” Vanmarcke told VeloNews. “I think I still will be able to be back in time.”
Off-season knee problems delayed his classics preparation by weeks, and that means he won’t be racing for the win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, which he won in dramatic fashion in 2012, or Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.
Also read: Vanmarcke joins ISN as Travis McCabe retires
Vanmarcke, 33, was in rebuilding mode when VeloNews caught up with him during the Ruta del Sol mid-February.
Nagging knee problems meant he was forced to ease off training for several weeks and didn’t resume full efforts until late December, a challenging period when most classics riders are already piling on the kilometers over the winter to be ready for the major spring dates.
“I had a really bad winter with knee issues. I still have to work on my condition, but I feel good at the moment with this situation,” he said.
“It was probably caused by the crash in the Vuelta, it affected my hip, and because of that, I started to pedal different. I started to use my leg different, and it caused the knee problem.
“We had to work on it a lot to build up the muscle again, and to make my knee and hip normal again,” he said. “Now it’s feeling OK, and now it’s about building up the performance side again.”
Altitude-bound for late classics peak
Vanmarcke isn’t only changing his early season goals, but also his approach to the spring calendar.
In a quest for a more controlled and less frenetic space in which to put the finishing touches on his form, he will skip racing the traditional classics warm-ups at Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico.
Instead, he will head to an altitude camp on Spain’s Teide volcano.
Can’t beat this:
The ☀️ is on.
No worries whatsoever. pic.twitter.com/LR3TK1tmYh
— Israel – Premier Tech / Israel Cycling Academy (@IsraelPremTech) January 21, 2021
The hope is that he can add the top-end intensity he needs in training without the risk of crashing or getting sick at the spring stage races in France or Italy.
“I will go to a training camp. A race is different, because the intensity of racing creates more stress, and it’s less controlled. Now I can control my training, if I am tired, I can take a rest, if I feel good, I can push it,” he said. “At a race, I am dependent on what the peloton does.”
Classics riders are no strangers to altitude, but seeing Vanmarcke camped out on the crater will be a surprise because the training block comes so close to the most important races.
“I think I am the first one who does altitude this close to the classics. If it’s not so great, maybe I will say never do it again,” he said. “It’s a gamble, but I have this situation now. We’ve looked at different scenarios, and in the past, I’ve been going well after altitude camps in the summer. I want to try it now.
Vanmarcke will climb down from the mountain in time to race Milano-Sanremo, and then it’s straight back onto the cobbles and bergs with the eternal quest at such races as E3 Saxo Classic, Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix.
He’s hopeful he’ll be back on the frontline of pre-race favorites. And perhaps even break on through to the winning side.