Niki Terpstra wins Le Samyn
The Dutchman attacked with 15 kilometers to go and took a beautiful solo victory, after a brilliantly executed plan by the team.
Quick-Step Floors totally owned the 49th edition of Le Samyn (Quaregnon – Dour, 200 kilometers), as Niki Terpstra became the first double-winner of the race since it has been introduced on the UCI Europe Tour calendar, 13 years ago, with 2012 World Champion Philippe Gilbert taking a close second for a remarkable 1-2 of our team on the last race of February, which witnessed another vintage edition.
Seven riders made it into the escape on Tuesday, but the real race began with over 120 kilometers to go, on the first of the four punishing laps in Dour, when Quick-Step Floors amassed the entire team at the front and upped the tempo in the crosswinds, blowing the peloton to pieces and joining the escapees with only three other riders on their wheels. Tim Declercq, Davide Martinelli and Florian Sénéchal sacrificed themselves for the team, trading pulls at the front, extending the gap and shredding the group to just a handful of riders for the final 70 kilometers of the afternoon.
Philippe Gilbert and Niki Terpstra, together with Damien Gaudin (Direct Energie), Alex Kirsch (WB Aqua Protect) and Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto-Soudal), managed to hold off the late charges of the peloton, and despite a mechanical of Philippe, who had to change his bike inside the last 40 kilometers of Le Samyn, the group entered on the penultimate lap in pole-position to fight for the top prize at the Belgian race, which took place in freezing conditions, with the mercury showing -3ºC.
An injection of pace from Niki distanced Kirsch and Van der Sande, a move followed with 20 kilometers to go by a true tactical coup of Quick-Step Floors, as Gilbert and Terpstra set up a perfect 1-2, harassing their opponent with two incisive attacks; first of these was launched by the Ronde van Vlaanderen reigning champion, before the Dutchman came round the Frenchman and went into time trial mode, quickly opening a gap which he then increased as he prepared to tackle the final two cobbled sectors of the race, Cote de la Roquette and Rue de Belle Vue.
Not only that he didn't encounter any problem there, but the 33-year-old continued to stretch out his advantage, giving himself plenty of time to celebrate his success at the finish in Dour, where Philippe Gilbert arrived second. After grabbing the 20th victory of his career and the first since coming out on top at the 2016 Eneco Tour, Niki was obviously delighted at the end of the day.
"I am very happy, but must say we suffered today with every kilometer, because the cold made use spend a lot of energy. It wasn't easy to race in these conditions, but fortunately it worked out well for us at the end of the day. We knew the break was strong and the responsibility was on us, so that's why we attacked in the crosswinds from afar. We went full gas and turned everything into an elimination race, with more and more guys getting tired and dropped. The team rode a textbook race, Philippe was perfect in the finale and we just made use of our numerical advantage, so that I could get away and take this beautiful win."
Philippe Gilbert returned to the podium of Le Samyn a decade after winning the race, and the 35-year-old Belgian was satisfied with his legs after what was arguably the toughest race of the season so far: "Our team made the selection and once we split the peloton we had a dream scenario, with all our riders in the front. I am really proud of the guys, they were incredible and this performance gives us even more confidence for the next races. The race was hard and alert, and Gaudin was very strong, so we knew we had to get rid of him, which we did thanks to a perfect tactic. I am happy for Niki and glad to see the form is there ahead of Strade Bianche, one of my favourite races of the year."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele/ Getty Images