When Sep Vanmarcke crossed the finish line at Gent – Wevelgem having won the sprint for third place, he punched the air with delight. It wasn’t a win but it may as well have been.

For the Belgian racing on home soil, today’s result marked a Classics redemption of sorts after a write off Classics season last year. 13 years after first gracing the podium at Gent-Wevelgem, Vanmarcke was back up there today for the third time in his career, this time, with his daughter alongside him. While the Jumbo-Visma duo of Christophe Laporte and Wout Van Aert proved unbeatable, taking the top two steps of the podium, Vanmarcke used his experience to play his cards to perfection in the finale.

Attacking as part of a trio in the final ten kilometers, and joined by Mads Pedersen in the last kilometer, Vanmarcke waited patiently to launch his sprint and win the four-man battle for the final step.

Best of the rest is always nice. I’m super happy. I mean the two guys in front were long gone and I never thought about those two, I was focusing on getting a good result for myself and for the team. I saw the sprinters looked tired and everybody started to gamble, so everything was possible and I started to be really active in the last 15-20 kilometers but I felt like I had to keep on attacking and following moves because at one point, it would split,” explained Vanmarcke.

Then when Bjerg and Frison went, I went full gas with them and we worked really well together until the last kilometer as we knew that if we didn’t do it, all three of us wouldn’t have a chance to get a good result with all of the sprinters behind us. Pedersen came back but he also had to spend a lot of energy to catch us so that was perfect. He launched from far away and I used him as a lead out and sprinted to a nice third place.”

Van Aert and Laporte’s attack on the Kemmelberg with 50 kilometers to go was the decisive move in the race but behind, Vanmarcke was feeling good. He powered on in the peloton and started to show himself at the front of the group in the business end of the race. Right until the very end.

Stepping onto the podium today was more than just a celebration of a good result, it was the knowledge that Sep is getting back to his best form.

I had a good winter and I stayed healthy. I didn’t have any injuries and basically the whole season I have felt good and have been racing at a high level. I’m just missing a little bit and I was thinking maybe this is just what I have left in my tank now, this is my best level, but now today proves that if you keep trying for your best, at one point you will get a good result. It’s a big relief for me and for the team. Everybody put a lot of effort into it. The result today gives me confidence for the next races. I also realise Van der Poel, Van Aert, Pogacar, these guys are next level but it gives me confidence that I can get a good result at the Tour of Flanders.”

For Sports Director Dirk Demol, Sep’s third place is nothing but well deserved.

Third place is an incredible result. I feel so proud of Sep and how he performed today. The day started not so good with only five riders at the start line so Sep being third behind Laporte and Van Aert is like a victory for me. We knew that they were gone. As soon as they had 20 seconds, we knew they would win the race so third place would be the best possible. After the final Kemmelberg, we were in communication with Sep as he said he was feeling really good so we told him to follow his instinct. Top five was going to be a good result but third place is incredible.”

Photos: Sprint Cycling