Le Samyn is a cobbled classic race that takes the riders across the Flemish landscape and... wait a second.
Did you know! Le Samyn takes place outside of Flanders! It’s actually in Wallonia, maybe 20km south of Ronse and Geraardsbergen. There is a road just outside Quaregnon, where the race starts, called the Route de Wallonie, just in case you were unsure. Which is good, because apart from the language change, there really aren’t any signs telling you when you’ve crossed the border. Well, I suppose all the signs demonstrate the language change from Dutch to French pretty clearly, so maybe there are a lot of signs. Anyway, we outsiders like to talk about how the two main regions of Belgium are different, but they both have cobbled roads and cobbled classic races and pretty excellent beer, so we might do better to spend more time emphasizing how they are alike.
The men’s edition of the race is a Europe Tour 1.1 race, meaning 50% pro tour participation. It’s been going on since LBJ was president. Wait, LeBron James was president? Yes, he was, and it was pretty cool.
Did you know! Le Samyn is named for José Samyn, who was born in Quievrechain, which is just barely in France and pretty easily bikeable from Dour where the race ends. Samyn died tragically in a race in Zingem in August, 1969 at the age of 23 when he struck a spectator who was crossing the road and hit his head. He lingered in a coma for five days before succumbing to his injuries. The previous year he had won the first-ever GP de Fayt-le-Franc, which was then named after him upon his death. Samyn was a considerable talent, with second in La Fleche Wallonne and third in Paris-Tours to his name. He also won a stage of the 1967 Tour de France, then returned to the Tour the following year and tested positive for a stimulant, whereupon he briefly contemplated retiring from cycling. Before returning, and then dying from a crash. Pretty unreal. Wouter Weylandt is another former winner here, giving this race a true memorial feel to it.
OK, back to the race. The distinguishing feature is one I mentioned earlier, which I hope you picked up on. Namely, the presence of cobbles. I know I can be a bit of a broken record on this point, but if you aren’t sold on how awesome they make racing, stick around. Anyway, earlier today news broke that Le Samyn’s fourth cobbles sector was looking like a complete shit-show a day before the race:
By my calculation, there are only four cobbled sectors in the entire race, and they are repeated over and over:
Being able to count to four, my hunch is that the fourth sector is the Rue de Belle Vue sector. I don’t know much about the Rue de Belle Vue, but I do know that when you see riders noticeably struggling on a flat surface, something is definitely up.
Did you know! “Belle vue” is french for “looks great,” and I suspect this sector was named by someone who did not have to ride a bike on it. The race itself is sometimes referred to as the Little Paris-Roubaix. It has about half the number of cobbled sectors and both Quaregnon and Dour are smaller than Paris and Roubaix, so it’s a pretty good name. Also, the weather is expected to be lousy all day tomorrow, making this a “real Samyn,” not one of those dry-weather affairs.
In keeping with the theme from the past weekend, the men’s race has a pretty decent chance of ending in some sort of sprint, but the usual mix of cobblestones, wind, rain and assorted other obstacles might say otherwise. Here’s Maxime Vantomme finishing off a win in 2014 in a bunch gallop:
The key here are the dry surfaces and short sleeves. Obviously the weather on that day wasn’t much of an obstacle. Last year it was a bit different. Here’s Niki Terpstra, who soloed home on the day for the win:
You can see the wet roads and the jacket, and pretty much guess that Terpstra did his thing (escaping for a solo win) because of the crappy weather. But here’s Chantal Blaak earlier in the day:
The weather seems a bit nicer. But I guess Blaak coming in ahead of Emma Johansson is all we need to see anyway, since between them they’ve won three of the five editions.
The women’s race takes place simultaneously, and will be run for the sixth time. It’s a 1.2 race, but has a pretty beefy startlist, which it should because all the top women were in Belgium and the Netherlands over the weekend and aren’t due in Italy until Saturday. The ladies race over 100km and do the four cobbled-sector sequence one time.
Blaak is back for more, because cyclists are essentially greedy people when it comes to winning bike races. Kirsten Wild is there, and she has 68 wins to her name as a pro, mostly coming from sprints. I’m guessing that makes them the favorites, with no Emma on the startlist and world champion sprinter Amelie Dideriksen dropped from the lineup. Chloe Hosking, Lisa Brennauer, and Jolien D’hoore (winner in Sunday’s Omloop van het Hageland) are other names that jump off the list.
And back to the dudes... Quick Step deleted their Colombian star Fernando Gaviria from their lineup, leaving it to ... I dunno, Laurens De Plus? Kris Boeckmans comes in as a favorite after his 2015 win, though Jens Debusschere and Tosh Van Der Sande might make for good alternatives for Lotto-Soudal. Preben Van Hecke was strong over the weekend so he’s maybe one to watch. Vantomme is here again too for the WB Veranclassic team, but Justin Jules isn’t, which is too bad because he also has quite a story and also looked surprisingly good over the weekend.