A string of top fives in all the recent one-day cobbled classics marks Sep Vanmarcke as a favourite to win the Tour of Flanders on Sunday.
"My team is working 100 percent for me, they believe in me," the 25-year-old Belgian told Cycling Weekly yesterday. "I believe in my chances."
Bookmakers give Vanmarcke 12:1 odds, just behind Fabian Cancellara, Peter Sagan and Tom Boonen. Based on past results, it makes sense.
Sep flew Belkin's green and black colours in four one-day classics in the month of March. In all the races, he scored top fives: fourth in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, third in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, fifth in E3 Harelbeke and on Sunday, fourth in Ghent-Wevelgem.
"The first races have gone well," sports director, Nico Verhoeven said. "We had some bad luck at Harelbeke, where Sep had a flat tyre and had to change bike at a crucial point of the race. That's why he missed the breakaway of the first four riders. The big goal is try to win one of these classics."
The Dutch team, which once raced with Rabobank sponsorship and in orange colours, will have Tom Leezer, Maarten Wynants and Lars Boom ready to help Vanmarcke in the final kilometres of the classics.
He faces Flanders and then next Sunday, Paris-Roubaix. Last year, he rode the final 15 kilometres to Roubaix with Cancellara. His legs only failed in the sprint on the cement velodrome.
Verhoeven said that he believes that the classics are more open and not guaranteed wins for Cancellara and Boonen now. Along with Vanmarcke, several riders have a chance Sunday including Sky's Geraint Thomas, Philippe Gilbert and Niki Terpstra.
"Maybe in the past we had three riders contesting the final," he explained. "We have 10-12 riders who can do it now."
Vanmarcke grew up in the suburbs near Kortrijk. He continues to train with his brother, who delivers the post in the morning, and remains modest about his ability. He said that he is not at the same level as Cancellara and Boonen, who have five Flanders titles between them.
"I don't think so. I am not on that level, nor will I ever be at that level," Vanmarcke said. "They are so strong, and they have won so much. I think I am a little bit below them, but all I can do is try to work harder and beat them."
At 25 years old, Vanmarcke said that he has time to reach the top. He already won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2012 with team Garmin. If he fails to reach the top in Flanders or Roubaix this year, he said that he has more years ahead of him.
"I am always riding my bike, I love the cobbles," Vanmarcke added. "Year by year, I get better and better."
After a weekend where he won E3 Harelbeke and placed third in Ghent-Wevelgem, Peter Sagan says he can take the
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