Kris Boeckmans (Lotto-Soudal) may have been outnumbered by Etixx-Quick-Step in the final move, but the Belgian surprised the boys in blue in the finale to win Le Samyn on Wednesday.
At the end of the 201.2km race from Quaregnon to Dour, Belgium, an elite group of eight came to the line after a rough section of cobblestones in the closing kilometers.
Four Etixx riders lined up the final kick for sprint ace Gianni Meersman, but Boeckmans, who had one teammate in the move as well, jumped early and took it to the line for his first-ever win at Le Samyn. Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) was third.
“Each victory is an explosion of joy. The last cobblestone section was the decisive moment; there the group was torn apart,” Boeckmans said. “I commenced the cobblestone section in the fifth place. The man before me failed to keep up. Then, I knew it was going fast. At that point, we were at three kilometers from the finish line.”
Early on, three riders were off the front: Gatis Smukulis (Katusha), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), and Ludwig De Winter (Wallonie-Bruxelles). With 63km to go, the gap was just shy of six minutes.
De Gendt attacked the breakaway with 61km left. Ten kilometers later, he had a 49-second lead over the two chasers.
Smukulis then left De Winter behind, riding in pursuit of the lone leader. With 43 kilometers left, Smukulis was dangling 59 seconds behind De Gendt.
Trek Factory Racing went to the front to drive the peloton with 36km to go, bringing the gap down to 1:45 and stringing out the field. Smukulis was not long for the chase. Around 34km to go, the peloton brought back the Katusha rider, and De Gendt’s lead had been shaved to 1:38.
Etixx-Quick-Step picked up the chase, and with 28km to go, the De Gendt’s lead was down to one minute. In part, the Etixx squad was setting up for a nasty, narrow section of pave, the Rue de Bellevue, which came just before the finish in the 24.7-kilometer circuit around Dour.
De Gendt gave up on his solo move with 21.5km remaining. A group of seven had sprung off the front of the peloton and quickly caught the early leader.
The new breakaway move contained Adrien Petit (Cofidis), Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto-Soudal), Sergey Lagutin (Katusha), Jan Barta (Bora-Argon 18), Jimmy Engoulvent (Europcar), and two others. The group forced Etixx to chase again, with an eight-second gap.
With nearly 12 kilometers left, Van der Sande suffered a puncture and was dropped. Then, Petit made a solo move on a short rise, and the rest of the break was caught.
Soon, Petit was also caught by the field, and with 10 kilometers left, FDJ’s Johan Le Bon attacked. His move was quickly covered, as the front group was strung out at top speed.
Ahead of the final, decisive section of cobblestones, the peloton’s pace eased, and Etixx patrolled the front of the group, delivering their riders in good position on the Rue de Bellevue. The field split, with a group of eight off the front with 1.5km left. Etixx-Quick-Step had placed four riders in the final selection.
Boeckmans jumped early after a long lead-out by Etixx. Meersman tried to come around on the left, but left it too late and was unable to close the gap in the final 50 meters.
“We went to the finish with this small group,” said Boeckmans. “I started my sprint at 200 meters. I tricked Gianni Meersman so he couldn’t pass me anymore. I rode a good sprint.
“Furthermore, the whole team was impressive today. We rode the perfect race. The peloton had given the escapees with Thomas six minutes, which is very dangerous when Thomas rides in front. They had to ride really fast to close the gap. This was in our advantage. The rest of the team countered each attack in the final, and I just had to make sure to be in the front.”