To the great relief and joy of cycling fans around the globe, the classics returned at (opening) weekend, serving us some real treats. It was a satisfying weekend too, for British fans, with two of the UK’s prospects, Jake Stewart and Tom Pidcock, both just 21 years of age, reaching the podium.
A Flemish-style race in the middle of the Flanders Classics season that takes place in WalloniaHarry Pearson
Next up in the Belgian classics calendar is Le Samyn. It’s not as fėted as some of its classics cousins but, aided by crosswinds and cobbles, it regularly serves up some of the most compelling racing of the season. This post previews the race and includes pre-race insight from Canyon dhb SunGod’s assistant DS Simon Holt.
It seems almost unbelievable, but the 2020 edition was the last UCI race for any British women’s team until Drops-Le Col p/b Tempur’s appearance at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday; almost a whole year without UCI racing for domestic women’s teams.
In recent years, the race has acted as the first chance for British teams to go head-to-head in a UCI race. Whilst this won’t happen in 2021, there is still plenty of British interest.
This year, the men’s race features its usual intriguing blend of World Tour, Pro Continental and Continental teams. The British UCI Continental Canyon dhb SunGod – and a host of other Brits – line up against some of the world’s best, including Mathieu van der Poel and a formidable Deceuninck-Quickstep team. As Or, as William Fotheringham put it: ‘SunGod vs BikeGod’.
The women’s edition, meanwhile, features the Drops-Le Col s/b Tempur team and a host of young British talents. Better still, both races are being shown live on Eurosport and the GCN app today.
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, Jacob Scott (Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes) was the best British male, finishing the men’s race in 25th. Some youngster called Jake Stewart was just behind him in 27th. Our journal contributor Lizzy Bennett (Drops) was the highest placed British finisher in the women’s race in 13th, with her Drops teammate Marjolein Van’t Geloof in 8th, despite finishing the race with a mechanical.
205.4 kilometres in length, according to the official website, 5 kilometres further than the 2020 version. 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 700-metre-long ‘Rue de Belle Vue’ which comes just 4.5 kilometres from the stiff uphill finish.
As Canyon dhb SunGod DS Simon Holt tells us, “the key part of the course is the finishing circuit and the five cobbled sectors that make up the loop”.
At 92.5 kilometres, the women’s race is less than half the distance of the men’s but 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 this, which follows the same route as the men, including the four cobbled sectors.
British riders to watch
The race is likely to be dominated by the WorldTour and Pro Continental teams. The strongest squads look to Alpencin-Fenix, who boast Mathieu van der Poel, Tim Merlier and Jasper Philipsen in their line-up – all potential winners – and the mighty Deceuninck-Quickstep. The latter may not be fielding their biggest classic stars but even their reserve teams contain riders that would be first choice in most other classics squads. Their squad this year includes previous winner Florian Sénéchal as well as Mark Cavendish. It will be interesting to see how he fares on such demanding terrain. Other riders to watch include John Degonkolb (Lotto-Soudal), Sep Vanmarcke (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Aimé De Gendt (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), who has finished second in the race for the last two years.
It’s probably fair to say that none of the British riders can be classed as amongst the top favourites for the race, so we’d count a top 20 by any of them as a good result. But there are nonetheless ten Brits taking to the start, a number of which have the potential to make a name for themselves.
Canyon dhb SunGod features a strong line-up, as usual. Jacob Scott finished 25th in this race last year and could go even better, form and luck allowing. All domestic racing fans will know just how strong Irishman Rory Townsend is, and if he finds himself in a reduced bunch sprint, he’s the kind of rider who could spring a surprise. It will be interesting to see how Dan Tulett does. He seemed to have a renewed love for cycling when we spoke to him at the end of last year, and with his punchy style and cyclocross background, he’s the kind of rider that could do well on this type of course. 20-year-old Callum MacLeod is another one to watch this year. He’s young, for sure, but seemed accomplished already in the few races we watch him at in 2019. He’s another who has a big engine and ‘cross background.
Speaking to the team’s sports director Simon Holt ahead of the race, he told us, “It’s a race where positioning is key. Last year, we just had Jacob Scott who narrowly missed the final split to finish in the second group for 25th, so obviously we want to better that result this year. Anything inside the top 20 is a result given the quality of the field but we strive for a top 10. There are so many of our riders that are capable of that – and more – and a result here puts them right in the spotlight of the higher-ranked teams”.
Fast men Matt Bostock and Reece Wood add sprinting power to the Canyon squad, if it comes down to a group finish, and don’t be surprised to see Robert Scott in the breakaway; it has become a bit of specialty of his.
Former Canyon dhb rider – and breakaway specialist par excellence – Alex Richardson is strong enough to put in a good ride here, although we’d expect the 2019 Holland Cup winner to be on team duties today given the strength of his Alpecin-Fenix squad.
Chris Lawless (Total Direct Energie) is a man with a point to prove after leaving Ineos Grenadiers to join a team where he’ll have a more of leadership role. His results haven’t been sparkling so far this season – he had his fourth career DNF at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad at the weekend – so let’s hope this is the race where the former Tour de Yorkshire winner starts to pick things up.
Finally, this is the kind of race that is made for rising star Lewis Askey (Groupama-FDJ Continental). The former junior Paris-Roubaix winner put in an attacking display last year in this race – in just his first season as an under-23. We’d love to see more of that from him today. And listen out for the first episode of our podcast series with him this season. It will be out later today.
Full startlist here.
Nine British women – and the British Drops-Le Col p/b Tempur – team line up in the women’s race, fewer than the 19 Brits and two British team of last year, but still plenty.
Drops-Le Col p/b Tempur field an experienced line-up and could fare well here. Last year, 24-year-old Dutch rider Marjolein Van ‘t Geloof, finished 8th in the race despite finishing with a mechanical – as she recounts in our latest podcast episode – while our journal contributor Lizzy Bennett was also in the front group, coming 13th. Welsh rider Bennett was in the break at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, so it will be interesting to see if she’s active again today.
Elsewhere, there are plenty of talented British youngsters looking to make their mark on the international stage. One of those is 19-year-old Amelia Sharpe (NXTG Racing), who started the year with a solid 66th at Omloop at the weekend. Her teammate Emily Wadsworth (21), opens her season here, so it might be more about getting accustomed to racing again for her. Pfeiffer Georgi (20, Team DSM) and Anna Henderson (22, Jumbo-Visma Women Team) are both riders we think have particularly bright futures. Henderson might well need to rider in the service of her team leader Romy Kasper, who was 6th in this race in 2019, but she has a fast finish so look out for her if she makes it to the finale in the front group.
Cyclocross specialist Abby Mae Parkinson (23, Lotto-Soudal) is another rider who will be at home on this kind of terrain. A solid 44th at Omloop suggest a top 20 would not be unrealistic. Sophie Enever (21) and Fiona Turnbull (20, both Lviv Cycling) round out the long list of British youngsters.
Finally, but certainly not least, Leah Dixon (29, Team TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank) but she’s relatively new to the sport and very much still developing, so we’re excited to see how the Women’s V-Tour winner fares this season.
Full startlist here.
Men’s race. Start time: 11:30 GMT, expected finish: 16:23 GMT
Women’s race. Start time: 11.20 GMT, expected finish: 13:46 GMT
Both races will be on Eurosport. Coverage of the women’s race begins at 13.00. The men’s race is due to begin at 14.15.
Featured photo: Rhode van Elsen. 2021 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad