The Belgian classics season continues this week with one of our favourite races: Le Samyn. Not as fėted as some of its classics cousins, it regularly serves up some typically gruelling, and entertaining, racing.
This year’s men’s edition features an intriguing blend of World Tour, Pro Continental and Continental teams. This year’s edition features two British Continental teams – Canyon dhb p/b Soreen and Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother – as well as Harry Tanfield, Jake Stewart and Lewis Askey.
The women’s edition, meanwhile, also has plenty of British interest. Both Drops and Weston Homes-Torelli-Assure are riding, together with a host of other domestic riders, including our journal writer Savannah Morgan.
Better still, both races are being shown live on Eurosport today.
This post previews the race and includes pre-race insight from Canyon dhb p/b Soreen’s assistant DS Simon Holt.
What is it?
In his fantastic book on the Belgian classics, The Beast, The Emperor and The Milkman, the author Harry Pearson describes the race as an oddity: “a Flemish-style race in the middle of the Flanders Classics season that takes place in Wallonia”. Flemish-style because it features a series of cobbled sectors, each with their own star rating (which has led to the race being dubbed a mini Paris-Roubaix).
The first edition of the race, run in 1968, was called the Grand Prix de la de Fayt de la Franc. That race was won by José Samyn who was tragically killed the following year. As a result, the race organisers changed the name of the race in his honour.
The men’s race is a UCI 1.1 race, whilst the women’s edition has a UCI 1.2 classification.
The race started back in 1968, then known as the Grand Prix de Fayt-le-Franc. It changed its name in 1970 to the Grand Prix José Samyn in honour of the first winner of the race who had tragically died in a race accident the previous year. It became a UCI 1.1 race in 2005.
No Brit has ever won the race, although Scott Thwaites did come second to Nikki Terpstra in a particularly brutal, rain-soaked edition in 2016. Roger Hammond came second in 2000. In the women’s race, Nikki Brammeier finished 6th in 2016, whilst Hannah Barnes was 7th in 2017. Last season, Tom Stewart (Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes) was the best British male, finishing the race in 50th. Nicky Juniper (MEXX-Watersley International) was the highest placed British finisher in the women’s race in 18th.
200.4 kilometres in length, according to the official website. Starting in the town of Quaregnon, it is a race of two halves. For the first 100 kilometres or so, the race heads north before looping back south to the finish town of Dour.
Here, the riders enter the finishing circuit that will decide the race. Over 20 kilometres through tough, open, undulating terrain, the circuit features five cobbled sectors, each of which has its own difficulty rating, á la Paris-Roubaix. The final sector is the bone-rattling 500-metre-long ‘Rue de Belle Vue’ which comes just 4.5 kilometres from the stiff uphill finish.
At 94.9 kilometres, the women’s race is less than half the distance of the men’s but is nonetheless features a fearsome parcours which should lead to aggressive racing from the gun.
Like the men’s race, it starts in Quaregnon and finishes in Dour. Unlike the men’s race, however, the race heads pretty much straight for the finishing circuit. The women face three laps of the this, which follows the same route as the men, including the five cobbled sectors.
British riders to watch
Expect the race to dominated by the WorldTour teams, particularly the mighty Deceuninck – QuickStep. They’re resting their big classics stars but nonetheless have enough firepower to remain the team to beat, including reigning champion Florian Sénéchal. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT Pro Cycling) and former Paris-Roubaix winner Nikki Terpstra (Total Direct Energie) are also amongst the starters.
It’s probably fair to say that none of the British teams have riders that can be classed as amongst the favourites for the race, so we’d count a top 20 by any of them as a good result. But there are nonetheless a few names to watch out for.
Canyon dhb p/b Soreen feature a very strong line-up, including two former Pro Continental riders (Jérôme Baugnies and Brenton Jones). Baugnies, in particular, is a rider who has won tough races like this in the past, so should definitely be counted as a rider to watch. Yorkshireman Tom Stewart is a rider that can go very well on the cobbles and was very close to winning the Slag om Norg (1.1) last season, a tough Dutch cobbled race. All their riders have experience at racing at this level, however, and have the potential to place highly on their day.
Speaking to the team’s sports director Simon Holt ahead of the race, he said, “It’s hard to single one of our riders out. We have a very strong team here, two of which rode Pro Conti last year and all are proven riders in their own right. Our main aim is to get into the final shakedown with as many numbers in the front as possible then start racing.”
Despite the WorldTour opposition, he also said the team is hoping for a good result after Max Stedman’s Tour of Antalya win: “A top 20 would a good result given the quality of the field, top 10 is what we’re aiming at and anything more is a very nice bonus! Given Max’s result in Turkey, team morale is high and everyone wants to keep the ball rolling!”
This is Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK‘s first race of the season, and it will be baptism for some of their riders, who won’t have ridden at this level of competition before. That’s not to say they are completely ‘green’ either. Joe Sutton, for example, is no stranger to racing in Belgium, having spent two seasons racing out there for the Goma Dakwerken-VDB Steenhouwerij team. Former cyclocross rider Dan Tulett is a rider we admire greatly here at the British Continental and has the potential to perform well in a race like this too.
Beyond the domestic teams, former Canyon rider Harry Tanfield (AG2R La Mondiale) makes his second race appearance of the season. Meanwhile, the Groupama-FDJ Continental team field Jake Stewart and Lewis Askey, two riders we expect to be future stars in this style of race. The might not yet be at the stage where they can compete for top honours but Stewart, in particular, is a rider who we think is on the verge of some breakthrough results, so don’t discount him.
Full startlist here.
There will plenty of interest for fans of British riders, with no less than 19 Brits racing.
Two domestic teams, Drops and Weston Homes-Torelli-Assure, start the race. Drops have the more experienced line-up, with riders like Emilie Moberg. 23-year-old Dutch rider Marjolein Van ‘t Geloof, in particular, is someone who has performed well in the past on this terrain and could be one to watch.
Beyond the domestic teams, Trek-Segafredo riders Elynor Backstedt and Abi Van Twisk both start. We expect big things of first-year senior Backstedt, although this race is likely to be more about gaining experience rather than bagging top results.
A host of other British riders start, including Josie Shepherd (Multum Accountants – LSK Ladies), Megan Chard, Fiona Turnbull (both Lviv Cycling), Emily Wadsworth (NXTG Racing), Lauren Murphy (Andy Schleck Cycles-Immo Losch), Nicola Juniper, Emily Nelson, Savannah Morgan (all Isorex-No Aqua), Leah Dixon (Team Tibco), Hayley Simmonds (Ciclotel) and Danielle Khan (Illi Bikes).
Full startlist here.
Men’s race. Start time: 11:30 GMT, expected finish: 17:18 GMT
Women’s race. Start time: 11.10 GMT, expected finish: 13:39 GMT
Both races will be on Eurosport. Coverage of the women’s race begins at 13.00 on Eurosport 1. The men’s race is due to begin at 14.00 on Eurosport 2.
Featured photo: Le Samyn 2017