Live coverage of the 50th edition of Le Samyn, which continues the cobbled classics campaign in Belgium.
Hello and welcome to the Cyclingnews live race centre for the next step in the Classics campaign. The so-called 'Opening Weekend' of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne kicked things off with a bang, and now it's onto the mid-week Le Samyn.
Taking place in the Wallonia region of southern Belgium rather than Flanders in the north, it still features plenty of cobblestones and short climbs - not to mention the tough weather conditions - that rarely fail to produce spectacular racing, even if the start list isn't quite as high-profile.
The race is underway
The riders have rolled out of Quarengon and are making their way through a short neutralised section before the flag drops and the racing proper can begin.
The women's race - Le Samyn des Dames - is also taking place today. Around 50km to go in that one and there's no breakaway but the front of the peloton has been reduced to just 30 or so riders. We'll keep you posted on the action.
The race is 198.4km and is essentially divided into two parts. The first sees the race head north towards the Flemish border, taking in a quartet of climbs in quick succession - Côte de Mainvault, Côte de la Folie, Côte des Papins, Côte Seminil - before turning around and heading back south towards Dour, just west of Quaregnon.
It's in Dour that the main action will unfold, on a finishing circuit of just over 25km that will be covered four times. On it are four cobblestone sectors - Côte de la Roquette, Chemin de Wiheries, Côte des Nonettes, Rue de Belle Vue - totalling 1700m of pavé, three of which are uphill. The final sector comes just under three kilometres from the finish line.
You may remember the arctic conditions last year. This time it's warmer, with clear skies, though recent rain has left some of the cobbled sectors treacherous. Wind was feared to be a big factor today but it's not blowing hard any many are now doubting the impact it will have on proceedings.
183km remaining from 198km
No breakaway just yet as the peloton remains as one in the opening kilometres.
Here's a shot from last year, to get you in the mood
Niki Terpstra is the stand-out name on the start list, having won last year and two years before that. The Dutchman is, of course, now racing in the colours of Direct Energie, while his old team Deceuninck-QuickStep - who made it a one-two last year with Philippe Gilbert - have rested their leading lights. There's no Gilbert, Stybar, Lampaert, or Jungels, and they'll be led instead by Florian Senechal (on the front in that last pic), along with Remi Cavagna, Pieter Serry, and Tim Declercq.
QuickStep are one of three WorldTour teams on the start list, along with fellow Belgians Lotto Soudal, who have brought Jens Keukeleire, and AG2R La Mondiale, who are here without Naesen and Vandenbergh but with Alexis Gougeard and Clement Venturini.
As if by magic, you should now be able to see the full start list on the right-hand side of your screens. Dimitri Claeys (Cofidis) and Benjamin Declercq (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) were non-starters due to illness.
In the women's race, the bell has sounded for the last lap and a group of seven riders have opened a gap of 30 seconds on the reduced peloton. In there are Barbara Guarischi, Romy Kasper, Jip Van den Bos, Daniela Gass, Demi De Jong, Lauretta Hanson, and Malgorzata Jasinska.
164km remaining from 198km
Still no breakaway to speak of in the men's race. We're coming up to that quartet of early climbs.
Keukeleire, by the way, has made the late decision not to race today. Lotto Soudal are a man light, with six. Stefan Dewulf, winner of the U23 Paris-Roubaix last year, wears the 31 dossard for the Belgian team, who also have Lawrence Naesen and Enzo Wouters.
Speaking of Lotto, they're here without their Classics leader Tiesj Benoot. He probably would have skipped this anyway but he sustained a knee injury at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday that could rule him out of Saturday's Strade Bianche, which he won in style last year. With Lotto management concerned about the longer-term Classics campaign, a decision is due to be taken on Thursday. Daniel Benson has the full story here.
On the early climbs - of which the Côte des Papins is the toughest with an average gradient of 12 per cent - a small group of riders have gone on the attack.
In the women's race, Jip van den Bos (Boels Dolmans) has attacked that group of seven and is now solo in the final few kilometres.
The three riders who have gone on the attack over the four short climbs are:
Alexis Gougeard (AG2R)
Tom Dernies (Roubaix Lille Métropole)
Gianni Marchand (Cibel-Cebon)
Jip van den Bos (Boels Dolmans) wins Le Samyn des Dames
The Dutchwoman finishes the job and crosses the line solo for her first professional victory. Last year was derailed by injury but the 22-year-old, who was third at Omloop on Saturday, is clearly having a fine start to 2019. Report and results on the way.
136km remaining from 198km
Back in the men's race, and Gougeard, Dernies, and Marchand have opened a lead of three minutes over the peloton.
120km remaining from 198km
There are the three breakaway riders. They're not being allowed much leeway here, with Deceuninck-QuickStep controlling the peloton behind and keeping the gap to a modest 2:30.
The weather has turned and the heavens have opened. The rain is coming down hard and that will only add to the chaos.
Here's a photo of the conditions, from the Roompot-Charles team car.
Into your tech? If so, we've got a treat for you. My colleague Josh Evans was in Belgium at the weekend and took a look at the most interesting bike set-ups in the Omloop and Kuurne pelotons. You can see 1x drivetrains, disc brakes, Shimano Ultegra, and more in his selection of photos.
That 1x, by the way, has caused quite a stir. You thought that idea had died out with Aqua Blue, didn't you? Well, not quite. It's back in the WorldTour with Trek-Segafredo's Mads Pedersen riding on this. More details here.
93km remaining from 198km
The rain has eased off now, and the riders are nearing the finishing circuit.
The riders have entered the finishing circuit. In a couple of kilometres they'll cross the finish line for the first of five times. They do so with 99.2km covered, and 99.2km to go.
99km remaining from 198km
Gougeard, Dernies, and Marchand take on the first of the four 24.8km laps with a lead of 2:30 over the peloton.
Here's a view of the circuit.
Le Samyn only really turned to cobblestones a few years ago. This year the total distance on pavé has been reduced slightly, as the organisers took out the 1km sector at Erquennes and replaced it with the 300-metre Côte des Nonettes. However, Nonettes is steep, and should help split the race.
"Last year we had 12km of pavé, and this year we'll only have just over eight, but I think it's going to be more spectacular," race organiser Jean-Luc Vandenbrouckerecently told Belgian newspaper DH. "The new sector is much worse and, above all, it has a fierce gradient. It's not a 'wall', but the cobbles are nevertheless on a serious slope."
Things hot up in the peloton as they hit the Roquette and Wiheries sectors in quick succession.
Here we go again. QuickStep already have four riders off the front in a small early split.
80km remaining from 198km
The peloton has split up and QuickStep have Remi Cavagna up the road, alongside Stan Dewulf from Lotto Soudal. They're joined by Loic Vliegen from Wanty-Gobert.
The breakaway trio of Gougeard, Dernies and Marchand, was caught after that big injection of pace once the local laps begun.
74km remaining from 198km
Cavagna, Dewulf, and Vliegen cross the line with a lead of 17 seconds with three laps to go.
Terpstra caught out
The leading trio are 17 seconds ahead of a group of around 30. Defending champion Niki Terpstra is not in it, and is instead in a chasing group several seconds further back.
There was a big crash a few kilometres ago, taking out QuickStep's Max Richeze among others. Perhaps Terpstra was caught behind that. He has teammates to help chase.
72km remaining from 198km
The Terpstra group comes back.
The leading trio's lead rises to 30 seconds on the early part of the second lap.
Cavagna is a 23-year-old with a big engine and a bright future. Strong against the clock, he's also good in this kind of race, having won the Dwars door West-Vlaanderen last year. QuickStep are here without their big names so it's an opportunity for him - along with Florian Senechal - to step up.
66km remaining from 198km
The trio are working well together but the pace is high in the peloton and the gap is still just 20 seconds.
Direct Energie force a split with four riders!
Terpstra is in there with Gaudin and Petit, the team's three big names. There are five others in there, with QuickStep, Lotto Soudal, and AG2R all represented.
The leaders hit the Côte de la Roquette with a lead of 9 seconds now.
More attacks come from the main group as Terpstra and co move clear.
The attacks start to bring the peloton back together but Direct Energie are determined to drive it clear.
Gaudin accelerates fiercely.
Terpstra hits the front now and raises the pace!
The peloton has reached breaking point and has split into multiple groups.
Terpstra and his team's forcing has seen a group of around 15-20 riders has emerge at the head of affairs.
This is impressive from Direct Energie but QuickStep are still QuickStep. Four of their seven riders are in this front group: Declercq, Cavagna, Asgreen, and Serry.
The riders hit Nonettes again and there are 24 seconds between the two groups
Off the cobbles and Declercq hits the front of the lead group to drive it on. This is further into the race than we usually see him but he's still doing the heavy lifting.
A small tarmacked climb now - the Cote du Calvaire - as Cofidis gather in the chase.
Gediminas Bagdonas leads the chase for AG2R. They have a rider in the lead group but clearly not the right rider. Senechal is there towards the front of that group for QuickStep.
53km remaining from 198km
The leading group hits the Bellevue cobbled sector and Terpstra hits the front. This one's much flatter but much rougher.
Terpstra comes off the sector and has opened up a gap with Gabriel Cullaigh (Team Wiggins).
Terpstra and Cullaigh press on but QuickStep are trying to drag them back.
The impetus has drained from the main peloton, where there's no concerted chase but now a series of short panicked attacks. They're 50 seconds down now.
And that's because Bagdonas, Senechal, and a number of others have clipped off the front and have now joined the leading group to make it around 30 out front.
Terpstra and Cullaigh are back in that group as they approach the end of the second lap.
50km remaining from 198km
The lead group crosses the line with a lead of 54 seconds over the main peloton. Corendon-Circus are now chasing behind to try and bring Stijn Devolder back into contention.
Stijn Vandenbergh tried a solo attack onto the penultimate lap but has been reeled in and now Wanty have sent Aime De Gendt on the attack. Serry goes across for QuickStep.
The pace ebbs behind Serry and De Gendt and QuickStep fire in another little blow, drawing out the other teams.
Bagdonas leads that group but the pace has waned and the leading duo have opened 15 seconds.
And now Vandenbergh attacks again. He's trailed by one of the three other Wanty riders in this group. Good work from the Belgian Pro Conti team.
The counter-attacks come now.
42km remaining from 198km
AG2R have plenty of riders in this large main selection and are doing the bulk of the work to chase Serry and De Gendt.
Serry and De Gendt lead by 29 seconds, while Corendon-Circus are dragging the main peloton back into contention. They're making inroads finally and are only 15 seconds back now.
It's strung out massively in the peloton as they try to finish off the catch.
39km remaining from 198km
Serry and De Gendt hit the Roquette sector - the first of the four on the circuit - with a lead of 24 seconds.
It's quickly onto the Wiheries sector after the Roquette and it's rougher and narrower.
August Jensen crashes on one of the bends on the sector, and one of the QuickStep riders goes down, too.
The main peloton was about to make contact with that large select group but the cobbles came too soon and have opened up the race again.
Around 35 riders in the select group, which is the second group on the road. There's no cohesive chase at the moment, with attacks and accelerations coming and going.
The lulls in pace allow the main peloton some hope. They're within touching distance again.
Onto Nonettes - the steep cobbled climb - and Venturini attacks from the main select group for AG2R.
Over the top and Venturini has a small gap as he bunny-hops a central reservation and then bunny-hops back over again to the other side.
31km remaining from 198km
Venturini's effort comes to nothing and he's absorbed back into the group on the Cote du Calvaire.
The main peloton has almost made the junction. It's splitting as riders try to finish the job and Vandenbergh lifts the pace up ahead once again for AG2R.
The peloton is just about all back together but it's strung out massively.
The leading duo turn right onto Bellevue. It's 700 metres, straight and narrow. Both riders choose the smoother dirtier surface by the grass verge.
The peloton strings out on the narrow sector as Wallonie Bruxelles take it up.
Still just 17 seconds for Serry and De Gendt as they take on the tarmacked final couple of kilometres towards the finish line, where the bell will ring for the final lap.
Elmar Reinders (Roompot-Charles) attacks alone from the main peloton, which has been reduced by Bellevue.
Reinders has opened up a decent gap here. He hasn't got far to make it across to the two leaders.
And another small chase group of five has clipped off behind Reinders.
24km remaining from 198km
Serry and De Gendt take the bell, with a lead of a few seconds over Reinders. Behind him is the small chase group with Vandenbergh, Declercq, Remy Mertz (Lotto Soudal), and Japser Asselman (Roompot-Charles).
Reinders makes it up to Serry and De Gendt.
And now Declercq and Vandenbergh dig in and drag themselves up. Asselman and Mertz are gapped but make it back on.
23km remaining from 198km
That makes it seven riders out in the lead:
Mertz (Lotto Soudal)
De Gendt (Wanty-Gobert)
Counter-attacks come thick and fast from the group behind. Baptiste Panckaert (Wallonie-Bruxelles) is the latest to take off. The seven leaders only have a slim advantage.
Planckaert is 10 seconds down. The rest of the main bunch is just several seconds behind him.
The paces ebbs from the bunch and Direct Energie hit the front to bring Terpstra up.
Planckaert almost keels over with the effort and decides to sit up and wait for the bunch.
Can Direct Energie drag this back in time for the cobbled sectors? They have two riders up in front of Terpstra, with another about to join.
19km remaining from 198km
A reminder of the finishing circuit. We're 6km in.
Despite Direct Energie's chasing, the advantage of the leading seven is growing. 30 seconds now.
The pace isn't high enough for Connor Dunne, who comes through to help out. Israel Cycling Academy are keen to help chase this down.
Mihkel Raim takes it up now for Israel, and the gap comes down to 25 seconds.
16km remaining from 198km
Declercq comes through for another turn on the front of the lead group. He holds out his hand and rotates his fingers in an order to the others that they need to keep turning.
Direct Energie take up the chase once more and they really raise it. Big acceleration.
Puncture for Adrien Petit and that's bad news for Direct Energie. Up ahead Gaudin is going full gas as the injection of pace splits the peloton.
The leading seven hit the first cobbled sector - Roquette - with a lead of 15 seconds.
10 seconds now as the main group hits the uphill cobblestones.
As well as climbing over the pavé, the roads here twist and turn, and that's bound to further split the main group behind.
On to Wiheries now, and this is a nasty sector. Serry loses ground.
Huge acceleration from Terpstra, and he's making his way across. Senechal and Boom are with him.
13km remaining from 198km
Terpstra, Boom and Senechal make it to the front of the race!
Brilliant from Terpstra, whose Direct Energie teammates chased it down just in time for him to use the cobblestone sectors to make his move and jump acrosss.
However, it's also brilliant from QuickStep, who bring Senechal up to make it three riders in the front group of 10.
Roompot also have numbers. Boom makes it three for them.
Behind the 10 leaders, a chase group of three has emerged, with Ventruini (AG2R), Tom Van Asbroeck (Israel) and Thomas Sprengers (Sport Vlaanderen Baloise).
10km remaining from 198km
10km to go and the lead group of 10 riders have a lead of 22 seconds over the chasing trio. Another group of 10 is 10 seconds further back.
Onto Nonettes and Terpstra hits the front and accelerates again!
But here comes Senechal on the right
Senechal crests the cobbled climb in pole position. He looked really strong there. The group just about remains together.
8km remaining from 198km
Onto the flat and the gap over the three chasers has grown to 28 seconds.
Terpstra accelerates again on the tarmacked climb of the Cote du Calvaire. He's going all out here.
7km remaining from 198km
Senechal and Boom are able to follow. The others are in a spot of bother but the group is coming back together now.
They're back together and Terpstra won't be doing any pulling on the front. He moves aside and Declercq takes it up for QuickStep.
6km remaining from 198km
Behind them the Venturini trio has been caught by the other chase group. They're at 45 seconds though and seemingly out of the running.
A reminder of the composition of the leading group as we head into the final 6km.
Terpstra (Direct Energie)
Mertz (Lotto Soudal)
De Gendt (Wanty-Gobert)
5km remaining from 198km
The final sector of pavé is Bellevue. It's short, at 300m, but narrow. After it comes 3km of flat to the finish line.
Attacks come from behind but the leaders aren't losing time as QuickStep are happy to use their numbers to keep it ticking over.
Serry is on the front for the men in blue and, after a long time out front, appears to be the rider being sacrificed. Senechal looked really strong on the last cobbled climb.
Onto the wide road ahead of the right-hander onto Bellevue.
194km remaining from 198km
Onto Bellevue and it's Reinders who leads on the crown of the sector.
Terpstra moves up on the left but Senechal goes on the right!
Senechal eases clear. Boom accelerates and comes back on the right. Terpstra up there just behind.
Senechal, Boom, and Terpstra exit the sector with a decent lead over the rest!
Vandenbergh sets about chasing behind. Serry and Declercq sit in, along with Reinders and Asselman.
De Gendt knows he needs to do something and attacks in pursuit of the leading trio.
2km remaining from 198km
Declercq jumps on boards and makes his way over with De Gendt. Theyre closing in.
Those two make it across and now it's five riders out front. Reinders is in no man's land behind.
Declercq comes straight to the front to work for Senechal.
Senechal lets the wheel go and Declercq has a gap. Boom is alive to it and accelerates.
Boom accelerates but now they all ease up.
Declercq attacks from the back of the group!
1km remaining from 198km
Declercq is off! And they're not chasing!
No response from the group behind. They're all looking at each other. Is Declercq the domestique on his way to a famous win?!
Reinders comes back and takes up the chase in the final kilometre
Declercq is going to be caught. Heartbreak.
Boom opens up the sprint, Terpstra just behind, but here comes Senechal...
Senechal wins it!
Florian Senechal (Deceuninck-QuickStep) wins Le Samyn
What a finale
De Gendt comes from far back to take second in the sprint. Terpstra was third. Boom bashes his handlebars in frustration in fourth.
QuickStep's perfect start to the Classics continues. That's three from three now for Patrick Lefevere's team.
1 Florian Senechal (Fra) Deceuninck-QuickStep
2 Aime De Gendt (Bel) Wanty-Gobert
3 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Direct Energie
4 Lars Boom (Ned) Roompot-Charles
5 Pieter Serry (Bel) Deceuninck-QuickStep
6 Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) AG2R La Mondiale
7 Tim Declercq (Bel) Deceuninck-QuickStep
8 Elmar Reinders (Ned) Roompot-Charles
9 Jesper Asselman (Ned) Roompot-Charles
10 Remy Mertz (Bel) Lotto Soudal
Senechal has spoken
“Everyone was telling me ‘you’re going to win it, you’re going to win it’. This year, I had a great team, and I didn’t go too crazy. In previous years I did too much too early but this time I really waited for the finale. My teammates worked all day and I owe them a lot. We really worked well. In the end, I had a good sprint, I felt strong, even if Lars Boom was also strong. But he went too early, and I came back."
That's Senechal's first victory as a professional. He signed for QuickStep last year after three years at Cofidis to start his career. Hailing from Cambrai, deep in Paris-Roubaix territory, he has quickly become an important part of the Belgian powerhouse's Classics arsenal, riding the big cobbled races last year, including Flanders and Roubaix. With the big names sidelined today, this was a real statement of intent that will no doubt move him up the highly competitive pecking order at Lefevere's squad.
More from the winner
"Terpstra was really strong. I knew he’s a shrewd rider and was waiting for the finale - Boom as well. I attacked on the final sector and the three of us went clear - the three strongest. Then it came back and Tim did an amazing job. You’re never sure of yourself in a sprint, especially when it goes from so far out, but in the end it was decided à la pédale and I’m super happy to win it."
Here's our report page, where you can find a write-up, results, and photos
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