Sport director Ken Vanmarcke was at the helm of the eight-rider Cannondale-Drapac squad that won a stage, spent three days in yellow and earned the points jersey at Tour of Austria last week. He was the mastermind behind the plan to create echelons after 160 kilometers in the first stage, getting six Cannondale-Drapac riders in the first group and eventually earned Sep Vanmarcke’s run in yellow.
Tom-Jelte Slagter pointed to Ken’s plan perfectly-executed as a key factor in his stage win.
Sep noted: “Our sport director once again crafted a smart plan that we executed perfectly and which delivered us the stage win.”
It’s clear that Ken is coming into his own as sports director for a WorldTour team.
TWO VANMARCKES ON THE ROSTER
When Cannondale-Drapac introduced its 2017 rider squad, one familiar name popped up on the roster: Sep Vanmarcke. The Classics specialist was returning to the American-registered team after two years in Dutch service. And this time Sep brought brother Ken along to the argyle armada.
Six years after forgoing his dream of becoming a professional cyclist, Ken had inked a WorldTour contract. Working at the highest level of the sport had been a dream of Ken’s since he was young, but as a child, he harbored ambitions on two wheels rather than driving behind the bunch.
“As soon as it became clear I couldn’t be a professional bike racer, that I didn’t have the talent, I stopped racing,” Ken said. “Turning professional was something I had thought of since I was a 12-year-old. It’s why I started cycling, a dream I worked towards.
“When I find out I wouldn’t make, even after I worked for it very hard, it didn’t make sense for me anymore to continue racing as an elite rider without a contract. Especially with a family at home. It all costs a lot of money and I didn’t want to take the risk anymore.”
He was 26 when he stopped racing.
Ken went on to work full-time as a postman. He still joined his brother for every training.
“Sep never trained without me when he was in Belgium,” Ken said. “I just continued to put the training hours in after I stopped racing, only now it was purely to support Sep.”
A NEW ROLE IN CYCLING
Eventually working full-time and supporting Sep more than half-time in his professional cycling career became unattainable. Ken started looking around for a job in the cycling industry.
“It was either stop riding together or find a solution,” said Ken. “It was 2013, or maybe 2014, when I first started training to become a coach. When I received my first coaching diploma, I felt that this might actually be something to pursue. When we contacted Team Lotto.nl-Jumbo, where Sep was riding at the time, to discuss possibilities, they were also open to it.”
“They connected me to Louis Delahaye for the coaching aspect mostly,” Vanmarcke continued. “But since I was also very interested in the DS work, it actually came naturally that I would also become involved in that area. The team management offered me to do some sort of internal training to become a DS.”
Vanmarcke tagged along with the Lotto.nl-Jumbo sport directors to learn every aspect of the job for the rest of the year
DEVELOPING ON THE CONTINENTAL LEVEL
While Sep would still be riding in the black-and-yellow colours of Team Lotto.nl-Jumbo for another year, Ken switched to SEG Racing in 2016, a continental team owned by Sep’s management team Martijn and Eelco Berkhout.
“It was a team on the continental level, so some would say that’s a step backwards,” Ken said. “At that moment, it also felt a bit like that for me. But in hindisght, I’m even more convinced that this was a boost for me in my training. It was at SEG Racing that I actually developed into a professional coach and DS
“At a lower level, you suddenly have to do everything,” Ken explained “At times, you’re the one washing out drink bottles or washing bikes. You have to arrange everything from start to finish. So you come to understand all of the work that goes into a team. That there’s more to it than the work of directors and riders, and you actually learn hands-on what soigneurs and mechanics do. So I’m really glad SEG Racing offered me this opportunity.”
BACK TOGETHER AGAIN
When Sep’s contract with Lotto.nl-Jumbo ended and contract negotiations between the Berkhout brothers and Cannondale-Drapac started, it quickly became clear that there was space for both Vanmarcke brothers at #GreenArgyle.
“The team had obviously followed up on Sep a bit and knew I had worked for Lotto.nl-Jumbo and SEG Racing as coach and DS,” Vanmarcke said. “They were immediately interested. Basically, it was all a very quick deal.”
“Ultimately though, it was Sep who decided to return to Cannondale-Drapac – that had nothing to do with the decision of the team to either take me on or not. It was first and foremost Sep who felt good about returning to Cannondale-Drapac. And additionally, it worked out really well that they were also interested in hiring me.”
The Belgian contingent by one when Tom Van Asbroeck also made the move from Lotto.nl-Jumbo to Cannondale-Drapac.
“They had talked about it with Jonathan Vaughters,” Ken said. “Sep and me were both surprised to hear about his transfer, but from the moment the idea was put to us, we were very enthusiastic and hoped the deal would go ahead. As soon as that idea of Tom joining us at Cannondale-Drapac got in our heads, we were immediately very hopeful.”
COMING INTO HIS OWN
Ken signed a two-year contract with Cannondale-Drapac. He rarely hands out bottles now. He never washes bikes
“It was a bit of switch-back, as everything works differently on WorldTour-level,” Ken said. “But everyone is very professional in the team, so it wasn’t hard to readjust.”
Ken’s schedule this first year has included the cobble classics, the Tour de Romandie, Norway and the Dauphiné.
“After Austria, I’ll do the Eneco Tour in August,” he noted. “There’s also the Prudential RideLondon somewhere in between. In September I will DS in the Tour of Britain. I will also go to China in October, to the Tour of Guangxi.”
While the cobble classics and Tour of Austria saw both Vanmarcke brothers in the race, that hasn’t been the case in all races.
“I’m always frustrated that media and a lot of people think I’m only in the team because of Sep or that I’m just ‘his’ DS,” said Vanmarcke. “Had that been the case, I would have joined Sep after his crash in the Tour of Flanders and had left the rest of the team to fend for themselves. I think everyone in the team will confirm that I’m a true DS for everyone. When I’m with the team, I’m not Sep’s brother. I’m a Cannondale-Drapac sport director like the others.”
Follow @kenvanmarcke on Twitter.