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.

20175951_356914_2_670

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

DW5uSooXcAAEoDO

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.

DW5w7PsWsAA21k8

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.

29982158-57f7-11e7-8c94-4e18f438453f_web_scale_0.0958379_0.0958379__

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?

GP Le Samyn 2017 Preview; Quaregnon -> Dour

GP Le Samyn 2017 Preview; Quaregnon -> Dour

The racing in Belgium continues this Wednesday with GP Le Samyn. Unlike the Ardennes races we’ll see in this area later in the year, Samyn is much more like its Flandrien counterparts, with tough cobbles and testing conditions.

Last year’s edition was one of the most brutal yet (highly recommend you watching it if you missed it), with only 28 riders finishing! Strong winds and rain battered the peloton into submission from the off and only the toughest survived. It was bad weather expert Niki Terpstra who came away with the win, attacking the small group left at the front with around 14km to go.

sptdw8015_670

Scott Thwaites was the only rider who could follow Terpstra initially but he was dropped when the Dutchman attacked again. Nonetheless, he held on for a spirited second place and it was Florian Sénéchal who won a three-up sprint to complete the podium.

Will we see a similarly selective race this year? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

A race split into two parts with the first section featuring some hills before the cobbles start in the second part of the race.

2ew0852

The closing circuit is a tough one, featuring no less than 16 cobbled sections; 4 per lap of the circuit.

c5mpb-wwmaeyi3z-1
Credit again to @LasterketaBurua for the profile.

This is where the race normally starts to shell riders out the back as the pace increases; 12km of cobbles in 100km of racing isn’t ideal for some!

Depending on how the race is unfolding, the final section of cobbles “Rue de Belle Vue” at roughly 2km from the finish could be decisive for one last shake-up. The finish itself isn’t overly technical but does drag up to the line so not opening up the sprint too early is very important.

However, the race may not come down to a sprint at all and it all really depends on one factor…

The Weather

After last years mud-bath the riders will be hoping for something a bit calmer this year, well, maybe some Belgians won’t be! And it looks as if the Belgians will be happy, as the finish town of Dour seems to be living up to its name.

screen-shot-2017-02-28-at-13-06-54
Dour weather forecast (Source: Wunderground)

So it looks as if we’re going to get some wet cobbles and relatively horrible conditions. Not as bad as last year but still pretty grim.

Looking at the wind speed and direction (source – Windfinder) for just north of Dour in a town called Hornu it looks as if we’re going to get a constant 25km/h wind all day with some strong gusts.

screen-shot-2017-02-28-at-14-01-51

The direction differs slightly from the first forecast source, but the point remains the same, it looks good for echelons!

Combining the strong winds, rain and cold conditions, I for one am going to be happy watching the riders battle it out from the comfort of my living room.

Who’s going to be at the head of the race though?

Contenders

With the change of the calendar this year, we only have 3 World Tour teams competing compared to 7 last season. However, that should not diminish the excitement as the Pro Conti and Continental teams will more than make up for it with some attacking racing and we’ll get to watch some unfamiliar names duke it out. Nonetheless, I’ll start my run through with the WT guys.

Quick Step don’t bring the defending champion with them but they do have a relatively strong line-up but there’s no superstar name. Bauer, Keisse or Devenyns may be their best bet at achieving back to back wins. The New Zealander was incredibly strong at the start of the year and I’m intrigued to see if he can carry that on here. He did some great domestique work in Abu Dhabi and that may be a downfall for him here; the fact that he was there and has to travel back. Therefore, Keisse and Devenyns look their most likely options. On this type of relatively flat, rouleurs terrain, I would have to favour Keisse out of the two. He has a good sprint from a small bunch and certainly has the abilities to hold off a chase if he gets a gap out in front!

20120428_ms_tot_002_600

Lotto Soudal arrive with former winner Boeckmans, but he still seems to be struggling to return to the rider he once was before his crash in the 2015 Vuelta. Instead, I imagine they’ll turn to De Buyst and Van Der Sande as their protected riders for the race. Both are fast sprinters after a tough day so if the race comes down to a reduced bunch sprint they have a chance. Van Der Sande is also an attacking rider so I imagine he’ll be present whatever race situation we get.

*Debuscherre has been added to their squad typically now that I’ve just finished writing this. On paper he should be there at the end, but he had crashed in Omloop and failed to start Kuurne. I don’t think he’ll be going full gas here.

Without their star-rider Boom, Lotto Jumbo come here with quite a weak team. I would guess that Van Emden and Wynants will be their leaders but I can’t really see them doing much. Well, saying that, Van Emden does have the TT prowess to be able to make his way to the finish solo but that will be tough for him to do considering he doesn’t seem in great form at the moment. Maybe new signing Van Hoecke can do something?!

Cofidis actually look like they are sending one of the strongest teams here. They have two very good options in Claeys and Sénéchal. The former had a breakthrough 2016, picking up a stage in Wallonie and finishing a very impressive 9th at Flanders. If he is in a similar vein of form then he is one to watch. Likewise, Sénéchal could well have won this race last year. He was exceptionally strong on the day, closing down almost every attack single handedly. It was those efforts that cost him in the end, as he didn’t have enough left in the tank to close down Terpstra when he made his move. With a bit more guile about him this time round, he has the class to beat this field. He is a Junior Roubaix winner after all!

en3vxwfb-yl_yiitqozgucqxq8q

Florian Vachon will most likely be Fortuneo’s best hope here. Third at Tro Bro Leon last year highlights that he doesn’t mind the rough stuff, although he hasn’t really got going so far this year.

After a disappointing Omloop, he was held up in the big crash, Pim Ligthart will be hoping to go better at this race. The Roompot rider must fancy his chances in this quality of field and he certainly won’t mind the bad weather. A strong cobbles rider with a fast sprint from a reduced bunch, I’m hoping to see him turn his week around here. Roompot also have Asselman as another potential candidate if the race is tough, or Kreder if we get a big bunch sprint. Although I can’t see that happening!

Dupont and Kruopis are the bigger names on the Verandas team. However, they’ve been poor so far this season and I can’t see them competing here, instead, Duijn is their best bet to finish top 10.

Sport Vlaanderen have a good outside candidate in the form of Van Lerberghe. The Belgian rider is a great talent and like most of his compatriots he’s at home on this type of surface. A similar rider to Edward Theuns, Van Lerberghe is capable of sprinting fast but is also comfortable attacking in tough conditions. With team-mate Sprengers, they’ll form a tough duo!

1312

In-form Frederik Backaert arrives here as Wanty’s leader for this race. Fresh off the back of an 11th place finish at Omloop, he’ll be brimming with confidence! I think he would have preferred some climbs closer to the finish but he certainly can’t be discounted. I really like the look of Wanty’s team as a whole and they really should feature at the pointy end of race tomorrow. Van Keirsbulk is a rider I’ll be watching with interest. The former QuickStep man was for a while touted as the next big cobbles rider, but he failed to live up to the hype. There were stories floating about that he got too happy in his surroundings at QS so this transfer to Wanty looks like a move to reinvigorate his career. Finishing 21st in Omloop hints at a return to a career that might have been!

The final Pro-Conti team here, WB Veranclassic, have a former winner (2014) in their midst; Maximme Vantomme. However, I think they’ll look to Ista as their man here but I don’t expect too much from him. A top 10 would be a good result! They do have a favourite of mine, Roy Jans, but he normally struggles in tough conditions.

Considering I’ve already wrote a short novella for this preview, I’m just going to highlight some names to look out for from a few of the Continental teams, rather than doing anything in-depth.

Armée de Terre: Gaudin and Tronet.

Roubaix: Pouilly.

AGO: Arimont.

Pauwels: Van Dingenen.

Tarteletto: Ruijgh.

Prediction

I think we’ll see a tough and fairly selective race tomorrow. Maybe not as tough as last year’s edition but the race will still be blown to bits. Therefore I fancy a rider who can handle bad conditions very well but also has the abilities to solo to the line. I alluded to him in the section above, but I think Van Keirsbulk is on the road to redemption so to speak and a win here will kickstart that!

guillaume-van-keirsbulck-eneco-tour-2014-omega-pharma-quick-step_3192064

Betting

No UK odds as of yet which is disappointing. I’m sure we got something last year! Belgian bookmaker Bingoal has some up.

I’d be tempted with Van Keirsbulk Win at 25, and top 3 at 7.

Also Keisse win at 80 and top 3 at 16.

*UPDATE – SkyBet have Prices; 0.25pt EW on both of them at 50/1*

Hopefully the UK bookies get their act together and there’s something out later or tomorrow morning.
Nonetheless thanks for reading and as always, any feedback is greatly appreciated! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will it be a selective race? My next blog post will be the Women’s Strade Bianche which I’m very much looking forward to! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.