Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) won a wet and windswept edition of Le Samyn after he overpowered Alex Kirsch (WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect) in a two-up sprint at the finish in Dour, while Iljo Keisse (Quick-Step Floors) claimed the sprint for third.
Van Keirsbulck and Kirsch were the last men standing on the final lap, by which point Le Samyn had switched from bike race to slugging match, with the two leaders trading blows on the front even as the chasing group moved to within touching distance.
The final sprint played out almost in slow motion, as both men struggled to keep their gears turning on the uphill drag to the line. Kirsch, so impressive in the finale, opened a small gap, but Van Keirsbulck was not to be denied, and he bludgeoned his way past to claim the win.
As he sat behind the podium afterwards, face muddied and eyes haunted, a tired Van Keirsbulck could scarcely summon the concentration to listen to questions in the flash television interview. "It was a hard race but I survived," he said.
Van Keirsbulck has dropped down to Pro Continental level this season after Quick-Step seemingly grew tired of waiting for him to deliver on his considerable potential, and he carried himself on Wednesday with the air of a man eager to prove a point. As ever, the action was distilled across four laps of the 25-kilometre finishing circuit, and scarcely a move went clear without Van Keirsbulck playing a prominent role.
The first major splits in the peloton occurred on the second lap of the circuit, after early escapees Erwann Corbel, Kenneth Van Rooy, Gordon De Winter, Kevin Van Melsen and Joeri Stallaert had been brought to heel. The 25-kilometre circuit features four cobbled sectors, each more treacherous than the next in the day’s muddy conditions, while a long, exposed crosswind section made for an even more rigorous selection process on each lap.
The strongmen began to come to the fore in the final 60 kilometres, when a five-man move featuring Van Keirsbulck, Jesper Asselman, Roy Jans, Kenneth Vanbilsen and Maarten Wynants went clear. From that point on, Van Keirsbulck was rarely out of view, and he remained to the fore when the leading group swelled to 15 riders on the penultimate lap.
Van Keirsbulck’s attack with 35 kilometres remaining, this time in the company of Keisse, eventually whittled the front group down to just 10 riders, though with Cofidis and Lotto Soudal chasing behind, their advantage hovered at 20 seconds as they crossed the finish line and took the bell.
Shortly afterwards, the decisive move took shape when Kirsch attacked, and only Van Keirsbulck and Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto Soudal) could follow. With 15 kilometres remaining, the trio’s advantage was down to just 15 seconds, but after ridding themselves of Van der Sande, Van Keirsbulck and Kirsch combined well as a duo to buttress their advantage. They were helped, too, by the succession of cobblestones that splintered the groups behind and drained much of the momentum from the chase.
On the drag up the Côte de Audregnies, Keisse and Florian Senechal (Cofidis) led a more cohesive chasing group clear, but with just six kilometres remaining, Van Keirsbulck and Kirsch had half a minute in hand and could sense victory.
When Van Keirsbulck attacked with three kilometres remaining, it initially looked a winning effort, but Kirsch impressively fought his way back up to his wheel just before they tackled the last section of cobbles on the notorious Rue de Belle Vue. The young Luxembourger proceeded to lead over that broken road, and appeared the more comfortable of the leaders as they approached the finish, with Van Keirsbulck now seemingly hanging on for dear life.
With Keisse, Senechal et al now closing fast, Van Keirsbulck and Kirsch had no time to indulge in tactical finagling in the final kilometre. The slightly uphill sprint was purely a question of strength. Kirsch opened a small lead, but Van Keirsbulck bludgeoned his way past to claim victory.
Keisse beat Senechal, Frederik Backaert (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Jesper Asselman (Roompot) to take third place, 11 seconds down, but the day belonged to Van Keirsbulck, who will hope it is a portent of things to come this spring in his new environment.
"It’s the first year I can race for myself and it was nice to be able here," he said. "Last year we had the same weather and I got too cold on the last lap, but today I took enough clothes to be sure."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Bel) Wanty - Groupe Gobert||4:53:55|
|2||Alex Kirsch (Lux) WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect|
|3||Iljo Keisse (Bel) Quick-Step Floors||0:00:11|
|4||Florian Senechal (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|5||Frederik Backaert (Bel) Wanty - Groupe Gobert|
|6||Jesper Asselman (Ned) Roompot - Nederlandse Loterij|
|7||Frederik Frison (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|8||Jos Van Emden (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo||0:00:13|
|9||Bert Van Lerberghe (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise||0:00:35|
|10||Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Quick-Step Floors||0:00:52|
|11||Hugo Hofstetter (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|12||Jelle Mannaerts (Bel) Tarteletto - Isorex|
|13||Olivier Pardini (Bel) WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect|
|14||Rémi Cavagna (Fra) Quick-Step Floors|
|15||Benoit Jarrier (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept|
|16||Sébastien Delfosse (Bel) WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect|
|17||Maarten Wynants (Bel) Team LottoNl-Jumbo||0:00:54|
|18||Jens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|19||Dimitri Claeys (Bel) Cofidis, Solutions Credits|
|20||Joeri Calleeuw (Bel) Roubaix - Lille Metropole|
|21||Taco Van Der Hoorn (Ned) Roompot - Nederlandse Loterij|
|22||Daniel Turek (Cze) Israel Cycling Academy||0:00:58|
|23||Florian Vachon (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept||0:01:41|
|24||Jasper De Buyst (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|25||Boris Vallee (Bel) Fortuneo - Vital Concept|
|26||Wesley Kreder (Ned) Wanty - Groupe Gobert||0:01:43|
|27||Tosh Van Der Sande (Bel) Lotto Soudal||0:01:56|
|28||Jimmy Turgis (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||0:02:19|
|29||Brecht Dhaene (Bel) Pauwels Sauzen - Vastgoedservice Continental Team|
|30||Sjoerd Van Ginneken (Ned) Roompot - Nederlandse Loterij|
|31||Coen Vermeltfoort (Ned) Roompot - Nederlandse Loterij|
|32||Roy Jans (Bel) WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect|
|33||Tim Declercq (Bel) Quick-Step Floors|
|34||Arnaud Gerard (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept|
|35||Jonas Rickaert (Bel) Sport Vlaanderen - Baloise|
|36||Dries Devenyns (Bel) Quick-Step Floors||0:02:38|
|37||Kevyn Ista (Bel) WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect||0:02:19|
|38||Loic Chetout (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||0:03:15|
|39||Anthony Delaplace (Fra) Fortuneo - Vital Concept|
|40||Charlie Arimont (Bel) AGO - Aqua Service||0:04:28|
|41||Martijn Keizer (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo||0:07:01|
|42||Michiel Dieleman (Bel) Cibel - Cebon|
|43||Rob Ruijgh (Ned) Tarteletto - Isorex|
|44||Przemyslaw Kasperkiewicz (Pol) An Post Chain Reaction|
|45||Mark Mcnally (GBr) Wanty - Groupe Gobert|
|46||Jack Bauer (NZl) Quick-Step Floors|
|47||Amund Grondahl Jansen (Nor) Team LottoNl-Jumbo|
|48||Lionel Taminiaux (Bel) AGO - Aqua Service|
|49||Gijs Van Hoecke (Bel) Team LottoNl-Jumbo|
|50||Remy Mertz (Bel) Lotto Soudal|
|51||Ludwig De Winter (Bel) WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect||0:08:06|
|52||Benjamin Perry (Can) Israel Cycling Academy||0:11:30|