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Riding in the pink: Sep Vanmarcke’s EF journey

At first, Sep Vanmarcke, pro cyclist with EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale, wasn’t so sure about the pink jerseys. Now, he likes how they pop amid the lush European race courses and the peloton’s frequent blues, yellows, and whites.

From January to October, Belgian-born Sep races across Europe, strategically using his mastery of cobblestones and sprinting to help his team win. On the eve of the Tour de France, Sep took time from his final recovery day to talk about joining EF Education First, work-life balance, and whether he still gets nervous before a race.

For those who might not be familiar with pro cycling, is the sport more about the individual or the team?
Though we are a team, in many ways, cycling is still an individual sport. We don’t train like a soccer or basketball team would, where they practice together. Of course, how and what we train is at the control and hands of team management, but we all train by ourselves. Then we come to a race and work as a team to help the guy who needs to get the result that’s needed to win.

What are your days like leading up to a race?
Most of the riders have a busy race and training schedule where they don’t get a lot of down time. The week before a race is about recovering, having team meetings, and reviewing tactics. We spend those few days resting and filling up our bodies with balanced food, so it’s ready for the days and weeks of racing.

Do you still get nervous before a race?
Not anymore, but the Tour de France does have a different feel. It’s so special. Everyone knows the race is important. There’s a lot of attention on it. The whole world is watching.

What is your non-race schedule like?
I’m always training. I wake up, have breakfast, and do morning exercises, like strength training, core stability training, and stretching. Next, I go for my ride. If it’s a recovery day, then it could be one hour or one-and-a-half hours. If it’s a long ride, it’s up to six hours. Each day is pretty intense.

Then, I come home around 3PM, have lunch and time with family. I work on the bike, meet with my coach, get a massage, or see the osteopath.

Also, because we are away from home so much, the days I am home, I need to take care of every appointment, go to the bank, take care of insurance, and go shopping. What other people can do in a month, I only have two or three days to do.

How do you balance family life with work life?
I have a wife and two young kids. When I’m with them, they are a good distraction. I’m not thinking about cycling all the time. Before a race, I stay at home as much as possible, because I’m going to be away for weeks or a month. There isn’t a lot of time to call, to text, to be on Facetime when riding. I try to be with them every minute I can.

Other than that, I don’t have much work-life balance. For twenty-four hours a day, I have to keep cycling in my mind. If I go out for dinner or lunch, I need to pay attention to what I eat. I don’t want to go to bed too late. No pro cycler can fully let go of cycling.

How did it feel when you heard EF had stepped in to help save the team?
At first, I didn’t know anything about EF. I was just really happy the team could continue. Then, I found out EF’s mission and what the company is doing. That made things even better. EF’s focus on language, travel, and education is personal, from human to human. It’s not a robot or a bank. Education is something everybody can have and everybody can use.

What are your thoughts on wearing pink?
To be honest, I was not really happy about the color in the beginning. But after a couple of days, I started to like the pink. Now it’s nice to see it pop in the peloton. Everyone can see it from far away and spot our team so easily. That is really nice for us riders. The public and fans can always find us.

How has joining EF changed the team?
I’m really happy EF came along. It’s early to say, because it’s the first year, but already I feel a difference and influence from EF. Positivity, mainly.

Everyone I’ve met from EF brings a good vibe. They are all motivated and happy. For example, at the races in Switzerland and Norway, some EF staff came to watch us and cheer for us. They were all extremely enthusiastic, so that was nice to see we now have an even bigger team.

Which languages do you speak and are you working on improving any?
I speak Dutch and English best. I also speak French, but it’s not perfect. In Belgium, the lower part of the country speaks French and we studied it in school, but I never paid enough attention. I can have a conversation with anyone, but I don’t use the perfect terms. I should learn it better, and will with EF.

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