Vanmarcke headlines #PinkArgyle Classics season opening weekend

    Sep Vanmarcke leads EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale as it heads into Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the two Belgian races that make up Classics season opening weekend.

    Omloop Het Nieuwsblad has fans, directors and riders excited due to its new/old finale, which harkens back to older Tour of Flanders finishes, featuring the Muur-Kapelmuur and Bosberg climbs as the closing hills that will inevitably impact the race. The Muur-Kapelmuur, with its cobbled switchbacks and storied history, is one of the sport’s most iconic climbs.

    “Omloop is the first important race of the season and the first time on cobbles. The atmosphere is great, and everybody wants to be good. It’s hard, full-gas racing,” Vanmarcke said. “In Valencia and Ruta, the team was riding perfectly together. To me, it feels very different than last year. We were in Spain with a part of the classics team, so we are already used to each other. Others, like Mitch Docker and Tom Scully, I haven’t raced with this year, but they will fit in the system because they are real team players.”

    Joining Vanmarcke at Omloop on Saturday are Matti Breschel, Docker, Sebastian Langeveld, Sacha Modolo, Logan Owen, and Scully. Modolo, Docker, and Owen are new to the team this year, and Breschel is making a return after a season away. All told, it amounts to a new feel within the classics group.

    “We have an interesting group of riders for this years’ northern classics and yes, so far we have seen a few promising efforts,” sport director Andreas Klier said.

    A swath of the cobbled classic team recently escorted Modolo to his maiden victory in pink at last week’s Ruta del Sol.

    “This year’s edition of Omloop shows us a totally new parcours, which is similar to older versions of the Tour of Flanders,” Klier said. “Obviously, it is a very hard race with most of the difficulties you could possibly find in that area. For us, it is a good indicator to see if our riders did their homework during the off-season, and already now we should be able to see if we are competitive for the upcoming northern classics during March and April.”

    Klier, who himself raced Omloop 16 times, has the type of fond memories only a gritty one-day race can spark.

    “This is race is all about suffering, often in bad weather, alongside a nervous peloton, but at the end of the day, it is one of the few northern classics with a long tradition and it’s a beauty of a race,” he said.

    Saturday promises to be high on suffering in part due to the different route and also the late winter Belgian weather. The temperature is expected to reach a high of only 40 degrees Fahrenheit with a steady, cold wind.

    For Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the team stays largely the same, seeing a one-rider swap: Tom Van Asbroeck is in for Logan Owen.

    Kuurne is fancied by sprinters due to the flat final 50 kilimeters, though that comes after 12 climbs to open up the race. The last two years, a rider from a breakaway has survived to take the win. The temperature chills off a bit from Saturday, with projections calling for below-freezing temperatures around start time.

    The team fosters clear objectives.

    “For both races we should aim for a podium spot,” said Klier. “Looking at the contenders I would say this is a difficult goal to reach. But again, I still think that this is realistic, and together as a team we should always reach out for the best possible, right?”

    Right, indeed.

    EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale for 2018 OHN:

    Sport Directors
    Andreas Klier (GER)
    Ken Vanmarcke (BEL)

    Riders
    Matti Breschel (DEN)
    Mitch Docker (AUS)
    Sebastian Langeveld (NLD)
    Sacha Modolo (ITA)
    Logan Owen (USA)
    Tom Scully (NZL)
    Sep Vanmarcke (BEL)

    EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale for 2018 KBK:

    Sport Director

    Andreas Klier (GER)
    Ken Vanmarcke (BEL)

    Riders
    Matti Breschel (DEN)
    Mitch Docker (AUS)
    Sebastian Langeveld (NLD)
    Sacha Modolo (ITA)
    Tom Scully (NZL)
    Tom Van Asbroeck (BEL)
    Sep Vanmarcke (BEL)