Le Samyn 2018 Preview

 

If you don’t like this race, we can’t be friends.

Last year’s edition saw a truly epic battle in absolutely brutal conditions that wore the peloton down over the laps around Dour. Only the strongest were left at the head of the race and we saw a late two-up attack hold their advantage over a small chasing group, battling it out in a sprint to the line for victory. Van Keirsbulk came out on top ahead of Kirsch, with Keisse winning the group sprint for third.

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Conditions aren’t going to be as extreme this year, although, I suppose you could argue that they will be but I’ll get to that in a bit. First, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow afternoon.

The Route

“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” seems to be the attitude of the organisers this year. We have pretty much the exact same route as last year which will see the riders leave Quarengon, head north and complete a large loop before heading south and to the finish town of Dour where they will take some local laps.

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 10.54.49

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It’s great to see that the profiles I’m using from @LasterketaBurua are actually the official ones too, great work guys!

Although we do have some climbs early on, the bulk of the action will happen in the final 100km once we reach the circuit.

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On the profile it may look like the riders have some tough climbs to contend with, but they are more “slogs” than anything else averaging 2% or so. Definitely for the rouleurs of the peloton and not lightweight climbers.

The cobbles will wear down the riders as they have to tackle 12kms worth in only just over 70kms of racing. Not ideal for some! A good portion of the circuit is on exposed country roads which makes for exciting racing if the wind gets up…

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 11.19.47

You can view the interactive finish circuit profile that I made here.

The most important section of cobbles is the last; the Rue de Belle Vue. At 700m long and coming only a few kilometres from the finish, it is one of the last places for someone to launch a decisive move if they don’t want to come to the line in a group. I’m not sure what the state of the cobbles are like this year, but in last year’s race they were battered by rain and looked like this…

There’s certainly no easy place to ride on them.

As for the finish, the road drags all the way up to the line so you don’t want to launch your sprint too early and fade in the closing metres. Timing and experience counts for a lot here.

Weather Watch

With the last two editions of Samyn heavily impacted by the weather, it looks as if we will have something similar this year. However, instead of the wind and rain that we had last year; it will be dry this time around, except it will be bitterly cold instead. Oh, and of course it will still be windy!

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 11.32.16
Source: Windfinder

The above image is the forecast for a town called Hornu that is situated just 10km or so to the north-east of Dour.

As you can see, the riders will face freezing conditions with the temperature set not to rise above -2ºC all day. Furthermore, a constant 25km/h wind coming from the NE/E will make the day feel even colder with a “Feels like” temperature of -9ºC.

This adds a different dynamic to the race and it could arguably be even harder than the past few years when they ‘just had a bit of rain’…

The wind direction is important as well because a lot of the exposed sections (like the one I highlighted earlier) will have crosswinds which means the possibility of echelons is very high, especially if the wind is gusting at 40km/h at times. It does mean that they will face a bit of a headwind on the run home, albeit, it might be more of a cross-headwind than anything else.

I can guarantee the peloton will be battered at the end of the day and the winner will definitely have deserved it.

Contenders

With only three WT teams here, there is plenty of chance for the PCT teams to step up and take a good result, like we saw last year with the first two on the podium. However, the WT teams are normally full of quality and they’re the squads that animate the race.

Quick Step arrive with a stacked squad, as you would expect, and I’m not entirely sure who will be their leader. On their website, they suggest it will be Terpstra, Gilbert and Stybar who are the protected riders but I have a feeling the latter two will be saving themselves for bigger goals, possibly Strade on Saturday. That leaves Terpstra and another rider who I think will go well here; Senechal.

Niki Terpstra.

CYCLING GRAND PRIX DU SAMYN

A former winner of this race and an expert in bad weather conditions, the Dutchman was disappointed with his performances this weekend. He’ll be looking to bounce back and this race offers him a great opportunity to do just that. The flat parcours is ideal for him and you would be hard pressed to find anyone in the peloton that rides better in the wind than he does. If he gets a gap of around 20 seconds, he will be very difficult to bring back.

Florian Senechal.

The young Frenchman has a very good track record in this race with a 4th and 3rd place finishes in the last two editions of this race. Those results came when he was on Cofidis who albeit were strong, they’re not on the same level as QuickStep. The extra team support could be a massive benefit to him. He did miss Kuurne due to a stomach bug so it will be interesting to see if he’s recovered from that.

Alexis Gougeard.

This is exactly the type of race that the AG2R man should start to excel in at this point of his career. Originally a breakaway rider, he has developed into much more than over the past two seasons. He’s put in some very solid performances over the first few races of the year, being active in most of the races. A “strongman” of the peloton, he won’t be too concerned with the gritty weather, it should suit his nature.

Guillaume Van Keirsbulk.

Can he repeat last year’s success? It will be hard given that he will be marked more in this edition but given the right circumstance he certainly has a chance. We saw in Kuurne that he tried a dig off the front of the peloton but it didn’t really come to much. Was he simply just stretching his legs for this race?

Dimitri Claeys.

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With Senechal now at QuickStep, Claeys will be the defacto leader of Cofidis at the cobbled races. His 2017 was probably one to forget with no real result to his name but he did manage to pick up a 5th place at the Tacx Classic at the end of the year, compared to his great 2016 season where he finished 9th at Flanders. It has possibly taken him a bit of time to gel with his new team and I’m hoping to see him improve this year. He’s already clocked a lot of miles this season taking some solid results in Marseillaise and Murcia which are certainly not races he should excel in. A rider who will like the tough conditions, I’m expecting a good result tomorrow.

Lasse Norman Hansen.

He could be a bit of a wildcard for a race like this. Starting off his season very well in Australia where he took a stage win in the Herald Sun Tour he has since gone on to DNF the three races he’s competed at back in Europe. Not a great sign really! However, he is a very strong rouleur and he should be ideally suited to the terrain and conditions that we have tomorrow; he loves an aggressive race!

Pim Ligthart.

Now into his second season with Roompot after dropping down a level, it will be intriguing to see if he fulfills the leadership role he has been given. Last year he took a few good results here or there but nothing outstanding. He was 4th in Kuurne on Sunday so his confidence will be up a little and he’ll fancy his chances if we don’t get a really tough day and a group of 20 or so arrive together.

I’m not going to ramble on anymore about contenders as I could easily be here for another 2000 words if I wanted so I’ll leave it be!

Some other random names I’ll throw into the hat though are; Pardini (Team Differdange – Losch), Spengler (WB Aqua Protect), Gaudin (Direct Energie) and Goolaerts (Verandas Willems)

Race Tactics

Wait until the final circuit and for the race to blow apart unless of course we see some very keen teams take it up on the loop north.

However, the outcome will depend on the approach of QuickStep. They have the class team in the race and have many different options that could feasibly win. This isn’t a WT race so I can’t see them trying to control it all day, instead, they’ll more than likely send riders onto the attack as soon as we get to the circuit around Dour, or try to rip things up in the cross winds.

It is important for teams to mark any move by a QS rider and get their own guy up the road too. Conversely, if they are in a move without a QS rider then it will be very difficult for it to succeed unless they are the only team that has missed out, which is incredibly unlikely. Last year it was possible to outfox them and wear them down due to the team they had, but in 2018 they bring some of their crack-squad so it will be different.

Consequently, this should make for some very interesting racing throughout the day as the right riders might not be represented in the correct moves.

It takes a great deal of luck but also experience and strength to win a race like this.

Prediction

This is a tough one.

Originally I had this down as a Senechal win but given he pulled out of KBK due to sickness then I’m not sure how he’ll do. It might have been a more precautionary thing than anything else, who knows.

No doubt QuickStep will play a massive part in the outcome of the race but I can’t see many teams making it easy for them.

Hmmm, I’ll go for Alexis Gougeard to take the one-day cobbled win that seems to have been coming for a while.

Alexis-Gougeard.jpg

The race will splinter a lot on the laps around Dour both due to the harshness of the conditions but also the difficult course. Quick Step won’t have as many riders near the front of the race as they would like but given their reputation they are burdened with a lot of the work. On the final lap we have a group of 12 riders at the head of the race but an attack sees a few riders get away. They work well together until Gougeard drops them all on the Rue de Belle Vue and solos to victory.

Betting

No odds, no party!

Kirolbet have odds in Spain and I’d be backing Gougeard at 40s and LNH at the same price.

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow?

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