Quaregnon > Dour 206.6km
With the excitement of the opening weekend still sitting in my brain, the riders bounce straight into another cobbled race, it’s the 55th edition of Le Samyn. Okay, it’s not as prestigious as Omloop or Kuurne, but this one is for the hipsters. The route is very similar to last year, just a couple of tiny adjustments that most won’t even notice.
Another Baltic day for the riders to endure. The wind will be around 20km/h, coming from the north-east means lots of crosswind sections for the bunch to deal with.
Rue de Vert Pignon – 1.6km on easy cobbles.
Côte de la Roquette – 600m on okay cobbles, including 400m at 3.2%.
Chemin de Wihéries – 500m on okay cobbles.
Côte des Nonettes – 300m at 3.2% on tough cobbles.
Rue de Belle Vue – 500m on tough cobbles.
The final kilometre averages 2.2%, it’s a grind up to the line.
QuickStep arrive battered and bruised after a difficult opening weekend, but it was hardly a surprise for those who know this sport. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen the team gradually lose their grip on the cobbled classics, especially with the rise of Jumbo-Visma. The team have continued with mainly the same group of riders, most of whom are nowhere near the level of the main contenders. It’s not all doom and gloom for QuickStep fans, Alaphilippe is back on form and Remco is one of the most exciting riders on the planet, but the days of them dominating the cobbles are over.
They still arrive here with a couple of strong cards to play, but in the years they dominated this race, they were miles stronger than the others. The way I see it is the big teams here are evenly matched, which should make for an exciting race. The freezing conditions, and wind, ensures this will be a tough race, just like both Omloop and Kuurne. One thing to do is basically forget about the cobbles, they rarely cause a big selection in this race as the sectors are easy or not long enough. The one exception is Rue de Belle Vue, which is the final sector in the lap. The cobbles here are tough, but as the sector is only 500m long, the gaps that are created often come back together before the finish, even though there’s only 2.5k to the line.
The differences in this race are made in the wind. You can see all the lovely red sections in the above image, these are the crosswind points in the lap circuit. Those who ride well in the wind will have a field day here, this is where the damage should be done, and the front group established. Jakobsen is by far the fastest sprinter in the race, all the other teams will want to distance him, they can’t take him to the line.
There are three full laps of the circuit, each time we go through the crosswind sections teams will try and split the race. It’s going to be one of those days where the winning move can go at any point in the final 80km, it really depends on who makes the front group and if there’s enough numbers left to chase. If the wind isn’t strong enough to split the race, we’ll get a relatively big sprint.
QuickStep – they arrive with Jakobsen and Asgreen as their standout riders, but there are questions about both. Fabio struggled a little in the Algarve, and it didn’t work out for him on Sunday either. Asgreen had to pull out of the opening weekend due to being sick, only he’ll know if he’s ready to fight for the win in this race. Steimle and Van Tricht could also have licence to attack, but the team’s best chance of success is a bunch sprint with Jakobsen.
Trek-Segafredo – Stuyven, Theuns and Hoole form a trident! They start with one fewer than the other teams, so I don’t think they’ll get involved in the early stages of the race, but they will have a big say in the finale. Stuyven is one of the favourites to win, but Theuns and Hoole are excellent options if they race breaks up a little earlier.
Lotto – Campenaerts and Vermeersch will be the attacking options, and they also have fast finishers in Beullens, Menten and Van De Paar. This is an excellent squad for a race of this level, Lotto should be one of the main protagonists. I thought Vermeersch looked good at the weekend, this is the type of race he should be winning. For me, Campenaerts is a bit of an enigma, I find it hard predicting when he’ll be good. If the wind blows, they’ll be one of the best.
Arkéa – they have four sprint options; guess they’ll hope for some type of sprint. Hofstetter or Dekker should be saved for the end, letting the others attack. Mathis Le Berre is here, fresh from an outstanding ride on Saturday, I’m looking forward to seeing more of him.
Søren Kragh Andersen – 99th in Omloop was certainly not the way he would have wanted to start the classics. He said in a pre-race interview that his winter went very well, maybe Saturday was just one of those races. Technically speaking, he would prefer more hills than we have in this race, but he’ll still give it a good go.
Kaden Groves – he gives Alpecin a very good sprint option, something that most teams would want in a race that usually finishes that way. I’m not sure how he copes with freezing conditions.
Mike Teunissen – 11th in Omloop was a decent start to his classics campaign. Intermarché signed him to help Girmay reach new levels in the big races, but Mike will have freedom in the semi-classics. This is a good race for him, he knows how to ride echelons, copes well with cobbles and packs a fast sprint. He arrives with a decent looking team; they should be one of those wanting a hard race.
Stan Dewulf – for whatever reason, he didn’t make the next step most expected in 2022, hopefully it comes this year. He didn’t race in Kuurne, as this race is a big chance for him to fight for a win.
Giacomo Nizzolo – it should be a good race for the Italian, but he only has four teammates to help. They’ll have to hope other teams help make it a sprint.
Well then, everyone’s favourite DS is back. After struggling through the opening weekend, my old pals at Trek-Segafredo have put in a call to my agent.
Right boys, gather round. Take out those silly air pods, and everyone come forward and put your phone in the box. The opening weekend wasn’t great, but we can make up for it now. This is a race most of you know well, we need to use that experience. We start one man down, but don’t you worry, having me in the car is worth an extra five.
We don’t chase the morning break; we want to be in the morning break. Otto, Mathias, Jacopo you all have licence to try and get in the move, make sure it happens.
The lap circuit is when we move. Desperate Daan, Fast Eddie and Jappi, you boys are brilliant in the crosswinds, so make it happen. Jakobsen is here, he’s the one we need to try and drop. Daan and Eddie, you can attack and take your own chances, it’s your chance to impress. Jappi, you need to stay patient and wait for the final lap, that’s when you can make the difference.
Winning is important, but it’s not the be all and end all. I want you to show everyone what we can do, don’t sit back, and let the race pass you by. Animate race and be aggressive. Now, let’s get them! Okay, you can have your phones back now.
I usually make a mistake when predicting this race, I normally think it’s going to be more selective than it turns out to be.
I’ll take a sprint win for Fabio Jakobsen.
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