Sep Vanmarcke, after third place last year, is embracing his favourite status for Sunday’s Tour of Flanders.
“It’s only normal that there is pressure, I put myself under pressure, as well,” said the Belgian classics specialist. “Already since last year, I feel that I can win this race.
“I have no fear, although some of my rivals seem to be in a very good shape. Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara are out, but there are many other contenders left. Geraint Thomas is the fist who comes to mind. He is a very dangerous opponent.
“I think there are five, a maximum of ten riders, who can win on Sunday. The Tour of Flanders is such a heavy race that the favourites will always be up there in the end.”
Vanmarcke hopes to avoid bad luck in the “holy week” that is Flanders and Paris-Roubaix next Sunday. Punctures thwarted him in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Strade Bianche, while in E3 Harelbeke, he was hampered by a broken cleat.
“If I don’t have any bad luck, I can go a long way. Hopefully, I’ll have many team-mates at my side.”
He shrugged off Gent-Wevelgem, where he lost ground on the winning group in wind gusts up to 80kph.
“It’s never fun if you have to let other riders go, but it happened under exceptional circumstances.”
The team’s problems with injuries and sickness left Sports Director Nico Verhoeven scratching his head. However, the situation has improved.
“The boys trained in nice weather conditions on Wednesday. That was good. They seem to be in a good shape, especially Sep,” Verhoeven said. “That’s a real confidence booster, because a team is as good as its leader.”
Verhoeven expects an open race, where they will mark the major moves for Vanmarcke.
“An open race is normally a good thing for Sep. The fact is that he always wants to race, and so he is often up there in the battle for victory. That’s very important.
“And it won’t be a warm Sunday, which is not a disadvantage for Sep.”
Tom Van Asbroeck, Rick Flens, Tom Leezer, Bram Tankink, Maarten Tjallingii, Sep Vanmarcke, Robert Wagner & Maarten Wynants.
Jan Boven & Nico Verhoeven.