Sep Vanmarcke tasted the sweet joy of victory after a three-year wait today, winning the inaugural edition of the Maryland Cycling Classic from a five-man sprint.
Vanmarcke’s win, which comes after a string of bad luck, illness, and injuries this year, was the result of a strong day of teamwork which saw fellow Belgian Jenthe Biermans win the sprint jersey.
“I’m feeling relieved. It has been a long time since I won a race as I was sick and injured and this win puts me back on track. It was hard to get back to a good level in the last few months and two weeks ago, I had bruised ribs so I had to take some time off and miss a few key races. I was really disappointed so this is a nice way to get back,” said Vanmarcke.
The race was on from kilometer zero with attacks coming thick and fast to ultimately create a strong 25-rider breakaway featuring Vanmarcke, Biermans, and Krists Neilands. With IPT’s sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo in the main group behind, the team had multiple cards to play but it was a race impossible to control.
When the gap rose to more than four minutes after 75 kilometers of the 197-kilometer undulating course, it became clear the winner would come from the front group. The breakaway split on one of the climbs and produced a 12-rider leading group featuring IPT’s Belgians.
“It was more difficult than we expected. The first 120 kilometers were super tough but because of the heat and the long day in the breakaway, the final was also really hard. We knew there were rolling hills but it was one after another all day and it was really demanding. Also, we got away with 25 riders after 10 kilometers and this made it a really hard race. EF sped it up after 60 or 70 kilometers and split it, so we were 12 in front. One by one, everyone was getting tired and I could feel it in the final. But I knew I had to be in everything as it would split again,” added Vanmarcke.
When the race reached the first of four laps of the 12-kilometer city circuit in Baltimore, Vanmarcke and Biermans were looking strong and on the second-to-last lap, another selection was made with Vanmarcke part of the final five-rider group.
Vanmarcke used his experience to time his sprint perfectly, launching with 300 meters to go and out-sprinting Nickolas Zukowsky (Human Powered Health) and Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) to take a morale-boosting victory.
“I was hoping to win with the team today. We had the plan to go to the sprint today but Giacomo didn’t get in the breakaway so together, I think we played a good tactical game. I’m super proud to win here in America. It has been a while since we raced here so to be back winning here is super nice,” explained Vanmarcke.
Biermans sprinted to seventh place from the chase group behind and, having taken the first intermediate sprint, claimed the sprint jersey to make it two trips to the podium for IPT in Maryland.