Sport director Andreas Klier summarized perfectly our sentiments from the weekend as he recapped Gent Wevelgem: “For me the nicest thing is to see Sep [Vanmarcke] is back again. I would love to see him going really fast in two or three days. He’s ready. He’s switched on. We’re all switched on. We had a good and productive debrief. I’m sad for Sacha [Modolo] and Sep, for the riders that they couldn’t finish it off with a podium spot, but that’s cycling right – some days you win, some days you lose, some days you lay with six on the ground. It’s a hard and rough sport.”
Mid-way through E3 Harelbeke, six of the seven EF Education First Drapac p/b Cannondale riders hit the ground at 60 kilometers per hour. By the time they were all back up and riding again, Sep Vanmarcke sitting on the back of the #PinkArgyle chase, the bike race was six minutes up the road. Fueled by Vanmarcke’s form, sport director Andreas Klier’s encouragement and a commitment to a common goal, the team delivered Vanmarcke to what remained of the peloton. He accelerated up Paterberg, covered several attacks in the final and ultimately finished in seventh place. If we needed extra motivation for Gent Wevelgem, there it was.
Klier said: “I have never seen a team performance such as the one today. Okay, a single sportsman, you can switch on when you’ve lost something but as a group? To get a whole group to believe in what looks impossible, it’s difficult. In this situation, we passed the riders from our team as they chased. C’mon. Do this. Do that. And step-by-step we made it back to Astana. They were in a similar situation, not really but similar. We rested and then we worked with them.
“From there, we made it to front with Sep. I can only say chapeau to every single rider of the team. To all of them. What they did, how fast they switched from nowhere and totally down to to believing in the victory and doing everything they could to achieve it is like nothing I have ever seen in my career. It was great.”
Despite injuries sustained in the crash on Sunday, #PinkArgyle was in flying form on Sunday. Sacha Modolo crashed between the Plugstreets and Baneberg, a fairly critical point in the race, but remounted and chased back before the climb. Around 40-50 riders made it over the Kemmelberg together, including Vanmarcke, Modolo, Sebastian Langeveld and Tom Scully. When the group split further, Vanmarcke and Modolo made the selection of 24 that would contest the win. Vanmarcke launched an attack around 600m from the finish line, leaving Modolo to freelance in the sprint. The Italian managed 11th place at Peter Sagan (BOH) took his third win.
Klier said: “From kilometer zero until 143, everything went totally perfect and then Mitch [Docker], who was on a good spot, and actually had the task to stay all day long with Sep, he crashed. He crashed out of the race. There was no way to come back. As far as I’m informed, aside from losing some skin, he’s ok. That’s what the doctor said.
“From there, the race was very hectic and very stressful, I think you could see that on the TV, due to not enough wind and that there were seven teams with proper sprinters at the start line. It was long a gamble if you’d get this Classics showdown with the big names of the spring or the teams would want to race for their sprinters
“In the end of the day, the race opened on the dirt roads at kilometer 90. We were with four people all the time, really present.
“On the Kemmel, Sep gave it a try. You could see that the effect from the crash at Harelbeke is more or less gone. He still feels it a little bit but it’s ok. I think in two days, he will be the same as he was in Harelbeke. Same is for Sebastian, who obviously felt it a little in his leg from the accident he had, but also his performance today was a good one.
“The last time Kemmel, Sep opened the race and Sacha had such good legs to be in the 24 rider group. From there it was a gamble to stay away from the group of Astana that was chasing.
“We were riding with Sep and Sacha was sitting in the back to be fresh for the sprint. Never did the Sagan, Van Avermaet, Gilbert, Sep open it up. The speed was too high and there was Demare and Viviani, we had Sacha. We kept the race open until five kilometers to go and wanted to be in a small group if something could happen with Sep but we didn’t really want to force it.
“In the last kilometer, there was a misunderstanding. Sep wanted to go early and after 250 kilometers, it’s hard to find the right side – left or right. Sacha followed Viviani. It was more chaos. And we missed the podium in the end.
“You do 250 kilometers, everything right, and then the last 150 meters you sit on the wrong side or whatever you do and you lose the bike race. They made everything in a very good way over 250 kilometers with I don’t know how many critical points. I think the positive thing today is all they did correct the whole race and at the end of the day, we can work to the upcoming things with a healthy team. Mitch is an important rider for us, and I’m happy to hear from the doctor that it’s only missing skin.”