Yesterday afternoon was Le Samyn. Referred to as a 'semi-classic' it's lack of presence on most cycling fans' radars makes it more of a 'one third-classic'. Despite being the most unheralded race in Belgium's opening weekend, the race was the exclamation point at the end of the sentence. Raced over 200km, the race is characteristically Flandrien, despite taking place in Wallonia. I hope that doesn't cause offence to those from either region, it's just to the British observer, the presence of cobbles instantly makes you think that the locals speak Flemish.
Cobbles are the cornerstone of this race. There aren't as many of them as in Paris-Roubaix, and they aren't on the same sharp climbs as Omloop Het-Nieuwsblad, Ronde Van Vlaanderen, or Gent-Wevelgem, but the 4 sectors featured in the finishing circuit are no less decisive.
Said finishing circuit is 25km and is tackled 4 times. This year a new, incredible uneven sector was included, but it was the inclusion of wind and rain that really made the race. From the start this was a war of attrition. In the final 100km I don't think any team had more than 3 riders in the front group, and most were down to just 1 or 2. Strength in numbers was not going to win the day.
Much like the two previous races in Belgium's opening weekend, it was a British Rider who played a significant role in animating the race. Playing the role of Luke Rowe at Le Samyn was Bora -Argon 18's Scott Thwaites. Anyone who saw Scott's bronze medal ride in the the 2014 Commonwealth Games will have seen his potential to mix it with the strongmen of the Spring Classics. Prominent throughout the day it was Thwaites who bridged over to Niki Terpstra's solo move that lit up the finale. With some 14km to go Terpstra went away from the bunch with a characteristic show of power, reminiscent of his win at the 2014 Paris Roubaix. On that day, neither Britain's Bradley Wiggins or Geraint Thomas were able to chase him down. Yesterday, Thwaites managed it and for a while it looked as though the two of them might work to the finish. But Terpstra is as wiley as he is powerful. He let Thwaites take a turn on the front before attacking him and riding away to glory. In hindsight Thwaites should maybe have refused to come through, but when a legend like Terpstra suggests you take a turn most of us would do as he asked.
For a long time Thwaites held the gap at around 15 seconds, and more impressively he continued to make time on the bunch as he went on to hold his second place all the way to the line. The race was the most compelling of all the opening weekend's racing, despite not having the star power of the previous 2 races, and the added cobbles in the finishing circuit mean that any winner is more than worthy of their glory. Terpstra may have taken the honours, and laid down a warning to all others ahead of more important dates at Flanders and Roubaix, but it was Thwaites' ride that was the story. Surely the World Tour awaits for this British Strongman in waiting.