Hello and welcome to the Cyclingnews live coverage of the 50th edition of the Le Samyn race in Belgium.
After the opening weekend of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kurrne-Brussel-Kuurne, its time for one more day of racing in Belgium before Strade Bianche, Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico.
Welcome to the action from the men's Le Samyn. The weather is very cold but dry and sunny in southern Belgium today as the riders face 200km of racing and several testing climbs and cobbled sections.
The cold wind is also a factor today, forcing riders to wrap-up in lots of clothes to fight the wind chill.
There is also a women's Le Samyn and we will kept you informed on the outcome of the race.
The riders rolled out of Quaregnon packed tight to fight the cold but a break soon formed.
There are seven riders in the move and they have opened a 3:00 lead on the peloton.
The riders are:
Maxime Daniel (Fortuneo)
Tom Devriendt (Wany Groupe-Gobert)
Damien Gaudin (Direct Energie)
Quentin Jauregui (AG2R-La Mondiale)
Johan Le Bon (Vital Concept)
Casper Pedersen (Aqua Blue Sport)
Franklin Six (WB Aqua Protect)
This year's 50th edition of Le Samyn has attracted a quality field for a mid-week race.
On the start list are Zdenek Stybar, Niki Terpstra and Philippe Gilbert of Quick-Step Floors,
2017 winner Guillaume Van Keirsbulck of Wanty-Groupe Gobert, while Lotto-Soudal can count on Jens Keukeleire and Tosh Van der Sande.
Gilbert won the race in 2008 and is keen to ride this year to apparently test his new bike for Paris-Roubaix.
The riders started in the sun but temperatures were -1C and are not expected to go above freezing for the whole race.
There was some debate about racing in cold conditions but neither the organisers, teams or riders decided to activate the UCI Extreme Weather Protocol and so no changes were made to the race.
However Quick-Step doctor Yvan Van Mol was worried about rider health.
"Cycling in this weather is unhealthy, I am convinced," he told Sporza before the start.
"I find it irresponsible to head out for 5 hours today. It should be possible to take off half of it and make a contest of up to 3 hours. With the tricky local circuits, you do not lose anything."
This was the view from the Wanty team car as the race rolled out. The skies are blue but it is very cold, with winds reported at 30km/h.
The break of seven includes some strong riders and so the peloton will have to be careful to keep them under control.
Quick-Step Floors are obliged to do the chasing with such a strong team and so Tim Declercq is doing the hard work on the front.
Danger men in the break include
Damien Gaudin (Direct Energie), Johan Le Bon (Vital Concept) and Dane Casper Pedersen (Aqua Blue Sport).
Pedersen is only 21 but was third overall in the 2017 Tour of Denmark and won the U23 European road race title.
He clearly knows how to suffer in the cold.
He has already ridden the Herald Sun Tour in Australia and the Tour of Oman but they were both in very different weather conditions.
This image shows the seven riders in the break as they fight to stay away and stay warm.
The wind is making it hard even in the peloton.
There has been a split in the peloton, with ten riders now chasing the break at at 1:10, with other riders further back down the road.
It seems that Quick-Step forced the split and have several riders in the group of ten chasers. The peloton is 20 seconds behind but fighting to close the gap.
This is a road side photo of Quick-Step leading the chase.
The ten chasers have caught the seven attackers to form a 17-rider front group.
With so many Quick-Step riders in the move, it will be up to other teams to chase now.
If nobody else has the strength in numbers to do the work, it could be difficult for the peloton to close the gap.
Lotto Soudal has tweeted that Tosh Van der Sande is in the front group of 17 and so they will be unlikely to chase.
Bad luck for Quick-Step neo-pro Fabio Jakobsen, he has dropped back from the group.
There are now 16 riders up front.
Behind Stijn Vandenbergh and Alexis Gougeard have attacked from the peloton to try to jump across. They know it is perhaps now or never.
The 16 riders up front are:
Tom Devriendt (Wanty), Quentin Jaurégui (AG2R), Casper Pedersen (Aqua Blue Sport), Damien Gaudin (Direct Energy), Franklin Six (WB Aqua Protect), Johan Le Bon (Vital Concept), Maxime Daniel (Fortuneo), Philippe Gilbert, Tim Declercq, Davide Martinelli, Florian Sénéchal, Zdenek Stybar and Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step), Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto-Soudal), Alex Kirsch (WB Aqua Protect) and Boris Vallée (Wanty).
As we reach the 100km and halfway point in the race, the 16 riders lead the peloton by 40 seconds or so.
This is where the race gets really interesting and really hard.
The riders face four 25km laps of a circuit around Dour. Each lap includes four sections of cobbles, with a slight climb up to the finish.
That adds up to a total of 16 sections of cobbles in 100k of racing.
Each 25km lap includes 3km of cobbles.
With the strong winds and cold weather it will be a testing finale where only the strongest will survive.
After crossing the finish area, the riders get a chance to feed. This is the break of 16 riders.
Quick-Step has one rider on the front driving the pace.
The peloton is refusing to give up the chase and is only 30 seconds behind but the cobbles will surely affect the race massively in the final 90km.
The speed is starting to take its toll on the attack, with Franklin Six (WB Aqua Protect) the first to be dropped.
The attack now consists of 15 riders, including Philippe Gilbert, Tim Declercq, Davide Martinelli, Florian Sénéchal, Zdenek Stybar and Niki Terpstra of Quick-Step.
Their lead on the peloton is up to 1:10 with 8 sectors and more than 3 of the 25km laps to race.
Le Samyn is the start of the Wallonne racing season and with the four sections of cobbles on each of the four 25km laps, it is a real hardman's race.
The peloton seems to have lost any chance of catching the move, with the speed also spitting riders out of the attack.
The latest to go out the back are Tim Declercq and Boris Vallée.
Declercq has been doing a lot of work to make sure the attack held off the chasing peloton.
Le Samyn is the first of ten races that form the Napoleon Games Cup during the season.
This is a side shot of the attack. The riders are working smoothly to hold off the peloton.
68km remaining from 200km
The gap is down to 45 seconds, with the bunch lined out as Quick-Step continue to control the break up ahead.
We've seen a number of counter attacks from the peloton and a group of three have just gone clear. It's going to be so hard to stay away with a group that small, although the gap to the leaders is down to 38 seconds.
@quickstepteam Tue, 27th Feb 2018 14:40:13
Our leaders are down to just Gaudin, Van der Sande, Gilbert, Kirsch and Terpstra. The defending champion is then in a chase group at 44 seconds.
And Terpstra leads onto the next set of cobbles and keeps the pressure on at the front of the race. He and the rest of the Quickstep cobbles contingent need a result after firing blanks during the opening weekend.
Gilbert is back with the team car, as he seems to have a problem with his bike. He's lost contact with the leaders and this isn't a good situation for the former world champion. Eventually he has a bike change.
Are Quick-Step past their best when it comes to the Spring Cobbled Classics? That's just one of the talking points from this week's Cyclingnews podcast. You can listen to it, right here. It also features Valgren, Vanmarcke and Trentin.
Gilbert has made it back to the leaders, so we're back up to five at the head of the race. The chase group of four are at 35 seconds with the bunch at one minute. We're on the next sector of cobbles and this one is fairly tough as we see Terpstra ride into the gutter in a bid to find the smoothest line. Gilbert sits at the back and is in recovery mode after being forced to chase after his bike change. We're still 58km to go and the race is wide open as we see more riders attack from the peloton. It doesn't look like there's a real chase at this point.
Capiot has made a bid for glory but he's given himself a lot to do.
It's still very cold at the finish but Gilbert is riding without gloves.
50km remaining from 200km
Exactly 50km and two laps to race.
Here comes the front chase group, they're 45 seconds back, with the peloton able to see them in the finishing straight.
Some riders grab bidons after passing through the finish.
Behind the front group we have four chasers:
Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Lasse Norman Hansen, Dimitri Claeys and Julien Duval.
They are trying to chase the Gilbert group, with others chasers in pursuit of them and then the peloton in hot pursuit.
Race organisers have placed barriers near section of paths that riders may be tempted to switch to so they can avoid the cobbled sectors.
The UCI were angry that riders so blatantly broke the rules and jumped on footpaths during the opening weekend races.
40km remaining from 200km
The two chase groups have joined forces but the peloton is close to catching them too.
A right turn takes the break onto a cobbled section and climb.
Despite the cold, there are die-hard fans on the climb cheering the riders.
The peloton is on the tail of the chasers now.
It will be interesting to see if the peloton can now unite and chase down the five-rider break.
36km remaining from 200km
There is a lack of unity in the peloton, with Van Keirsbulck surging away again.
He is not happy with the pace of the chase.
33km remaining from 200km
Van Keirsbulck has sparked another chase group and they are closing the gap after getting rid of the rest of the peloton.
Quick-Step have riders blocking the pace of the peloton but they're still closing on the Van Keirsbulck chase group.
30km remaining from 200km
However after working so hard to stay away, it looks like the break has run out of power and may soon be caught.
Petit and Bagdonas are working with Van Keirsbulck as they chase hard.
They hit a cobbled section now as they try to close a 30-second gap.
The peloton seems to have cracked and is a further 30-seconds back.
The cobbled sector has split the break.
Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto-Soudal) and Alex Kirsch (WB Aqua Protect) have been spat out the back.
That mean's it's 2 versus 1 for the final lap of 25km.
Gaudin seems willing to take his turns on the front for now but must know he has to try to force Gilbert and Terpstra to do the work on the final lap.
25km remaining from 200km
The bell rings for the final lap, with Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto-Soudal) and Alex Kirsch (WB Aqua Protect) at 15 seconds.
Petit, Bagdonas and Van Keirsbulck hit the line at 53 seconds.
They have 25km to close a 55 second lap.
The peloton seems adrift and crosses through the finish area at 1:45.
One lap to go means the riders face four sectors of cobbles for a total of 3000m of the rough stuff.
Each sector could be a good place to attack but the final one is especially selective and is followed by a leg-bursting climb. That is where Gilbert and Terpstra got rid of Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto-Soudal) and Alex Kirsch (WB Aqua Protect).
As the winter sun fades in the sky, the shadows are getting longer and the temperatures are falling. It has been below zero C all day.
21km remaining from 200km
The riders are on the 1400m sector of pave but it smooth and fast.
Adrien Petit is chasing the two-gorup break with Bagdonas and Van Keirsbulck but if he works hard it could lead to AG2R missing out on at least a podium spot.
Gaudin faces a battle up front against Gilbert and Terpstra.
He very generously working with the two Quick-Step riders but will have to play his cards carefully.
Here we go!
As the road rolls up, he jumps and gets some help from a motorbike.
16km remaining from 200km
Terpstra was sat on Gaudin's wheel and so the Frenchman is forced to chase.
However Gaudin seems to be keeping Gilbert in check.
Now Terpstra goes, landing a 1-2 blow.
However Gilbert shakes his head and seems unable to go with him.
But Gaudin refuses to give up and chases after Terpstra on an exposed sector.
14km remaining from 200km
The chasers are at 50 seconds now.
Gilbert is sitting on Gaudin in the wind but will perhaps attack him soon.
Behind 2017 winner Van Keirsbulck blows up as the cobbled road climbs gradually.
The cold and cobbles makes today's Le Samyn a tough, tough race.
12km remaining from 200km
Tersptra is out front alone and trying to time trial to the finish.
He leads Gaudin and Gilbert by 200 metres or so.
But does the Dutchman have the legs to make it all the way to the finish?
Gilbert is sat on Gaudin at the moment but will perhaps attack him soon to try to take a Quick-Step Floors 1-2.
Terpstra stomps on the pedals to try to up the pace and perhaps warm up .
9km remaining from 200km
Terpstra is slowly extending his lead, second by second.
Terpstra looks strong as his gap touches 18 seconds.
Terpstra tucks low over the bike as he fights into the headwind.
He leads Gaudin and Gilbert by 23 seconds now.
The chasers are coming up to the two on the exposed roads.
They are only 30 seconds back but are 1:00 back on Terpstra.
4km remaining from 200km
Damien Gaudin is still chasing with Gilbert on his wheel but is going deep to try to keep Terpstra within reach and also hold off the chasers behind.
3km remaining from 200km
Terpstra hits the last cobbled sector. He knows ho to ride the stones with ease, using his bike skills from the track to find the best line and float over he cobbles.
Behind Gilbert drops Gaudin after sitting in his wheel.
That's cruel after the way Gaudin worked hard all day but is part of bike racing.
Quick-Step Floors cam to the race with a strong team, keen to test their new Paris-Roubaix bikes. They will head home with probably a 1-2 and confidence as they head to Tirreno and Paris-Nice and their final build-up for the Classics.
1km remaining from 200km
Last km for Terpstra. He leads by 25 seconds.
Gaudin has his tongue out and is fighting to hold 3rd place.
Terpstra seems scared that Gilbert will catch him.
But here comes the finish.
Terpstra eases up and wins with his arms in the air.
Gilbert takes second at 25 seconds.
Gaudin holds onto 3rd place and finishes a tired at 45 seconds.
He weaves across the road after a huge effort in the finale.
The peloton finishes more than 2:00 back but the power of Quick-Step meant they were able to hold off the chasers and stop a sprint finish.
Gilbert and Terpstra hug after the finish but Gilbert does not seem too happy with second place.
His race was affected by a bike change and he was chased down by Gaudin when he made his attack.
Terpstra attacked Gaudin after Gilbert was caught and was never seen again.
This is the top ten stage result:
1 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Quick-Step Floors
2 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors
3 Damien Gaudin (Fra) Direct Energie
4 Adrien Petit (Fra) Direct Energie
5 Gediminas Bagdonas (Ltu) AG2R La Mondiale
6 Alex Kirsch (Lux) WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic
7 Benoit Jarrier (Fra) Fortuneo-Oscaro
8 Nico Denz (Ger) AG2R La Mondiale
9 Frederik Backaert (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert
10 Alexandre Pichot (Fra) Direct Energie
Terpstra is cold as he prepares for the podium ceremony but he is happy.
The cold and cobbles made for a hard, selective race but Quick-Step used their strength to control the race and make the right selection when it suited them.
It was Terpstra's first win of 2018 and the first since he took overall victory at the 2016 Eneco Tour.
Terpstra climbs onto the top step of the podium. He waves in celebration but is clearly tired.
The crowd cheers Wallonne Gilbert as he climbs onto the second step, with Gaudin -now wrapped up to try to get warm, on the third step.
All three riders seem to have suffered in the cold conditions.
Terpstra is given a big beer to celebrate on the podium and he takes a big drink. He deserved it.
Gilbert has red eyes and is clearly suffering after racing 200km in below zero temperatures in southern Belgium.
He quickly takes his bike and rides to the team bus to finds some warmth.
Terpstra made sure he was wrapped up against the cold and stayed warm by going on the attack mid-race and then alone in the finale.
Terpstra prepared for the 2018 Classics campaign by riding on the track in the winter and then raced the Dubai tour and the Tour of Oman.
He is expected to be part of Quick-Step Floor's team at Tirreno-Adriatico, which will work for Fernando Gaviria in the sprints.
This image perfectly shows how Quick-Step Floors dominated Le Samyn.
That is Tim Declercq on the front. He tweeted post-race:
Working day at #LeSamyn. Controlling the 7 man breakaway soloslim. Then making the echelons with the whole @quickstepteam, riding full gas to keep the peloton at bay. Result = lights out After 3h And 380 Watt Normalized Power
He posted this photo of himself doing a big turn on the front.
Napoleon Games tweeted this photo of Terpstra taking a his big swig of beer on the podium.
The Dutchman is the first leader of the ten-race series in Belgium.
This is the podium photo with Gilbert and Gaudin either side of Terpstra.
To see more photos of the race and read our full race report, click here.
Thanks for joining us for live coverage from Le Samyn.
We'll have more live coverage this weekend from Strade Bianche and then Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico.
We'll also have coverage of the track world championships in the Netherlands and all the latest news from the professional peloton.
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