Back-to-back top-five finishes on the two opening stages of Österreich Rundfahrt (Tour of Austria) put Sep Vanmarcke into the yellow race leader’s jersey on Monday. The Belgian began his campaign with fifth place in the opening prologue, a short 800-metre uphill time trial, before sprinting to second place behind Elia Viviani (Team Italy) from a reduced bunch on stage one.
“I’m happy with second place today because I knew I couldn’t beat Viviani,” said Vanmarcke. “The jersey was a pleasant surprise.”
Will Clarke sits second overall, three seconds behind his teammate. He time trialled to third in the opening prologue, which he won last year, and finished in the reduced peloton on stage one.
“I trained a lot on my power for the short efforts leading up to the race, and had a target of doing well here,” said Clarke. “I would have liked to have repeated my win in the prologue from last year but I came up a bit short.”
Cannondale-Drapac didn’t go into the Tour of Austria with general classification ambitions. The eight-rider squad has been tasked with racing opportunistically in the pursuit of stage wins. The 1-2 punch overall is a result of the aggressive approach.
The open nature of the first road stage created a battle for the early break. Numerous attempts failed before an escape was allowed up the road. Cannondale-Drapac was represented in several early moves, but missed out on the one that was eventually granted a gap.
The peloton controlled the five-rider move while #GreenArgyle conserved energy in the bunch. The focus was then directed towards the end of the stage.
“Our director had told us there would be a high chance of echelons after 160 kilometres,” said Vanmarcke. “We were prepared for that and had six riders in the first group of 30 that formed in the wind.”
Prepared may be an understatement. Cannondale-Drapac was integral in creating the move that ultimately positioned Vanmarcke to move into yellow.
“The goal was to use the strong winds in the final to split the peloton,” sport director Ken Vanmarcke explained. “There was a five-kilometre section with open roads. We put in an all-or-nothing attempt there and created the split.”
“We all attacked throughout the last 15 kilometres, because there were still a lot of sprinters in our group,” Sep said. “But no one was able to get away, partly because of the strong headwinds.”
Although the attacks proved unfruitful, a new plan was hatched to contest the stage win.
“I was tapped to do the sprint,” said Sep. “Ryan Mullen and Tom Scully gave me a lead-out and I managed second. It was impossible to beat Elia Viviani, so second is the best I was going to do. I didn’t aim for the leader’s jersey specifically, because I was focused on the stage. It was only after the finish that my teammates told me I took the leader’s jersey.”
The new race leader expects to hand over the yellow jersey soon, potentially to a teammate.
“There will be tough stages to come, too hard for me to keep the leader’s jersey,” Sep said. “With the team, we’re looking forward to tomorrow’s stage as it suits us, with a tough final. Our focus will be specifically on the stage win tomorrow, since we have several riders within the team that can win.”
“It is great that we have the jersey, but the Kitzbüheler Horn on Thursday is a 10-kilometer climb, with an average gradient of 12.7%. Neither Sep nor Will have a chance to lead after that stage,” Ken said. “Friday is a climber’s stage too. We know this and therefore won’t change our strategy. We’ll continue to focus on stage wins.”