Belgian One Day Classics: Le Samyn

Belgian hard man Marc Demeyer

1972 Le Samyn winner Marc Demeyer (centre)

After the Flandrian double shot of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne – Brussels – Kuurne, we move to French speaking Wallonie to have a quick look at Le Samyn.

Le Samyn

Race day 5 March 2014

First raced in 1968 as GP Fayt-le-Franc, the race was renamed in 1970 to Le Samyn in memory of its first winner José Samyn who died in a racing accident in 1969. This year it starts in Quaregnon, goes through Saint-Ghislain, Ath and Leuze-en-Hainaut municipalities in what is known as the Pays des Collines (Land of Small Hills) before it reaches Dour. In Dour, 5 laps of a 19.3 km circuit await those who still want to win this race. 196 km all up. Easy. Except it’s not.

Le Samyn is a UCI 1.1 category race and therefore is a serious show down. Most River Loop regulars never heard of it. Although Le Samyn is not a Flemish gig, it will most certainly extract every last drop of adrenaline from you if you watch it. Mind you, this is Liège-Bastogne-Liège territory with some legs busting climbs. OK, except the cobbled Côte de la Roquette, which comes at 121 km, all climbs are nicely paved (sort of), but they still hurt because, well, they are climbs.

The dishing out of pain starts with Côte de Mainvault at 37 km, a little warm-up before somewhat long (this is not Alps) Côte de la Folie at 43 km followed by steep and painful Côte des Papins (12% if you were wondering) at 46 km. You might think you’re done with the climbs when Côte Semenil at 50 km reminds you that even though you’re not in Flandria, this is not going to be an easy ride.

It’s up and down from Côte Semenil to Dour, zig-zagging around farms and small villages. With changing winds and narrow roads, you can never relax in this race if you want to win it.

Le Samyn is an unpredictable race that suits northern classics’ specialists who dominate it. However, allow a sprinter to stay alive and he will most certainly bag this race in–the finishing straight in Dour is a long uphill drag. A sharp sprinter will knife it without too much trouble. Robbie McEwen did exactly that in 2004. Couple other fast men who won Le Samyn are Arnaud Démare in 2012, Jens Keukeleire in 2010, the late Wouter Weylandt in 2009, and Wilfried Nelissen in 1993.

To prove that this is not a sprinters’ classic, one only needs to mention guys like Philippe Gilbert who won it in 2008, or Magnus Bäckstedt in 2002 (2004 Paris – Roubaix winner), or Claude Criquielion in 1987. And then there is this piece of rock by the name of Johan Capiot, the only 3 time winner of Le Samyn (1992, 1994 and 1995).

Facts of Interest

  • The Le Samyn total prize pool is an enormous €14,477;
  • First 20 places are paid;
  • The winner will get €5,785 while 10th to 20th places will get €147 each, enough for about 90L of unleaded 95 petrol in Belgium;
  • After Claude Criquielion won Le Samyn in 1987, he followed it with a win in Ronde van Vlaanderen, 2nd place in La Flèche Wallonne and 3rd in Liège–Bastogne–Liège;
  • The 1972 winner Marc Demeyer, pictured above, also won Paris – Roubaix in 1976. He, Francesco Moser, Hennie Kuiper and Walter Godefroot followed Roger de Vlaeminck’s ferocious attack with 30 km to go. Godefroot punctured and was out. De Vlaeminck was so sure he will win he pulled like a maniac most of the time, rolled into the Roubaix velodrome first and Demeyer punished him for his arrogance. 

Last 5 winners of Le Samyn

  • 2013 Alexey Tsatevich (RUS)
  • 2012 Arnaud Démare (FRA)
  • 2011 Dominic Klemme (GER)
  • 2010 Jens Keukeleire (BEL)
  • 2009 Wouter Weylandt (BEL)

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