Israel Start-Up Nation will be lining up with a strong roster to take on the Belgian opening weekend of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (Feb 27) and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne (Feb 28), as well as Le Samyn (Mar 2) on the following Tuesday.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad marks the first of the Belgian cobblestone races and features many of the familiar hills and sections from Tour of Flanders. It’s a prestigious race to win for any rider, especially a Belgian, something that Israel Start-Up Nation’s new signing Sep Vanmarcke knows everything about.
In 2012, Vanmarcke surprised many when he outsprinted top-favorites Tom Boonen and Juan Antonio Flecha to take the win. Since then, the now 32-year-old Belgian has been a regular contender for any Spring Classic with pavé sections. After a strong start for his new team, helping out his teammates to secure top results in Etoile de Bessèges and Tour des Alpes-Maritimes et du Var, Vanmarcke is now ready to begin one of the most important parts of his season.
Sep Vanmarcke: “I feel good at the moment. I know I’ve worked well during the winter and now I hope that everything goes well for the weekend and that I can play an important role in Omloop once again. I have already two stage races in the legs, which I believe will be quite an advantage for me compared to the guys who have only done one race or nothing at all. You can always try to replace racing with hard training, but you can’t really replace that race rhythm completely, that’s something you will miss. Both races I did were at a very high level and now I’m heading into the opening weekend in good condition and with confidence. I hope we can repeat what happened in 2012. It won’t be easy, but it wasn’t easy back then either.”
In addition to Vanmarcke, Israel Start-Up Nation brings several other strong riders suited for this type of racing including Jenthe Biermans, Guillaume Boivin, Reto Hollenstein, Alexis Renard, Tom Van Asbroeck, and Mads Würtz Schmidt, who started out his 2021 season by finishing fifth overall in Etoile de Bessèges earlier this month.
Sports director, Eric Van Lancker: “For Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, we especially count on Sep but also on a strong team performance in general. We are not the favorites, so we have to anticipate and play our cards wisely. Nine years ago, Sep won this race with me as the DS. It would be amazing if we could do that again this time. Sep is in good shape and I think he will be up there fighting for a top result on Saturday.”
For Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on the following Sunday, the composition of the team changes slightly, with the addition of the sprinting firepower of Hugo Hofstetter, Rudy Barbier and Israeli Itamar Einhorn. Traditionally, the sprinters have a decent chance of fighting for the win in this race. However, as is always the case in the Belgian spring races, you need to be attentive at all times. The last two editions of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne have seen a lone attacker manage to hold off the peloton with just a handful of seconds to deny the sprinters the glory.
Sports director, Eric Van Lancker: “Hugo is our leader for Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. It’s a selective course and we hope that he – as well as Tom, Mads and Jenthe – can be there at the end. If Rudy can survive the hard part, he will also have an important role to play. For a race like this, good communication between the riders is crucial.”
Two days after Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the team will face yet another challenging one-day race: Le Samyn. This race invokes good memories for Israel Start-Up Nation as Hofstetter took a beautiful victory here last year by following the right attacks and subsequently outsprinting his rivals on the line. This year, Hofstetter will be back aiming for another top result. However, he’s not the only strong card the team can play on the day.
Sports director, Eric Van Lancker: “For Le Samyn, the goal is for Hugo and Rudy to hide as much as possible during the race in order to arrive fresh for the final. Sep is also here, and he might be able to give it a go in the second part of the race with several cobbled sections on the menu.”
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad: Sep Vanmarcke, Jenthe Biermans, Guillaume Boivin, Reto Hollenstein, Norman Vahtra, Tom Van Asbroeck & Mads Würtz Schmidt.
Kuurne-Brussels-Kurrne: Rudy Barbier, Jenthe Biermans, Itamar Einhorn, Hugo Hofstetter, Mads Würtz Schmidt, Reto Hollenstein & Tom Van Asbroeck.
Le Samyn: Rudy Barbier, Guillaume Boivin, Hugo Hofstetter, Reto Hollenstein, Tom Van Asbroeck, Norman Vahtra & Sep Vanmarcke.