Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) took a strong victory in Le Samyn 2021, coming from down in the bunch to catch late attacker Rasmus Tiller (Uno-X) in the final 100m and pass him to take a clear win.
The former Belgian champion’s team-mate Mathieu van der Poel had led the peloton into the final kilometre, but it was Tiller who made a move from behind Victor Campenaerts (Qhubeka-Assos) in the final few hundred metres to try and snatch the win.
Merlier was then able to latch on to the wheels of those in pursuit, including Sep Vanmarcke (Israel Start-Up Nation), before passing them and sprinting his way up to the Norweigian out front. After briefly slipstreaming in his wheel, Merlier was able to easily round Tiller, who was now struggling in his effort, to claim victory. Andrea Pasqualon (Intermarché – Wanty – Gobert Matériaux) had attempted to follow Merlier, but was unable to match him and had to settle for third place as Tiller held on for second.
How it happened
Starting out in Quaregnon, the peloton for the 2021 Le Samyn faced 205.4km of racing on Belgian roads with the final 100km punctuated by regular cobbled sectors and climbs.
The pace was high over the flat tarmacked roads of the first half of the race, covering around 44km in the first hour, with a break unable to get away until over 70km had been raced.
Eventually five riders were allowed to go clear: Thino Willems (Sport Vlaanderen Baloise), Joey Rosskopf (Rally), Gianni Marchand (Tarteletto – Isorex), Jan-Willem van Schip (Beat Cycling) and Enzo Leijnse (DSM) were the riders to get away, establishing a maximum gap of around 3-30 before it gradually drifted down in the final 100km as they hit the more technical sections of the course.
With 60km to go the gap had reduced to just over 50 seconds with the lead group down to four; Gianni Marchand the man to fall away.
Into the final 60km a large group of around 20 riders or so was able to get clear of the main peloton, which included riders like Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Victor Campenaerts, and Sep Vanmarcke. They were quickly able to catch the break at the head of the race with around 55km to go.
That big leading group managed to stretch out an advantage of around a minute with Alpecin-Fenix the team leading the chase in the peloton having just one rider, Tim Merlier, in the lead group.
Mathieu Van der Poel made a move to try and bridge to the leaders, attacking the peloton with 42km to go with the gap at around 40 seconds. John Degenkolb (Lotto-Soudal) and Amaury Capiot (Arkéa-Samsic) were able to briefly join Van der Poel, but with around 39km to go they were all pulled back to the main bunch.
That move and the subsequent chase did however cut the gap down to the leaders significantly, and with 36km remaining it was down to just 13 seconds.
It wasn’t long until once again Van der Poel tried his luck at bridging across the gap, and eventually made it along with a few other riders. But those moves from behind prompted attacks from the leading group, the most significant of which was Campenaerts and Vanmarcke getting clear with 33km to go.
The Belgian pair were eventually reeled in on a cobbled sector with 29km to go, with the peloton now all together as the two groups merged a few kilometres earlier.
Campenaerts was able to go solo within 27km to go, as Deceuninck-Quick-Step regrouped on the front of the peloton to control proceedings. He managed to hold a gap of between 10 and 18 seconds for well over 10km, but the Hour Record holder’s effort was ultimately in vain, as he was pulled back to the peloton with 14.2km to go.
The closing 12km on the race was then peppered with attacks; Dries De Bondt (Alpecin-Fenix) tried his luck along with Campenaerts again, before Łukasz Wiśniowski (Qhubeka-Assos) picked up the baton from his team-mate and pushed on with just over 10km to go.
The Pole was inevitably caught but managed to hold a slim advantage until 3.8km to go when Florian Sénéchal (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Van der Poel passed him on the attack.
Those two were quickly joined by several other riders who hoped a small group may make it to the finish, but everything was pulled back together with 1.3km to go.
Van der Poel then led the peloton into the final kilometre, holding the centre of his bars which now appeared to be broken.
He then pulled off only for Campenaerts to try and take on a late push, but that merely acted as a lead-out for Rasmus Tiller who made his move in the final few hundred metres. There was nothing he could do to prevent Merlier from coming past him though, as the 28-year-old showed an incredible turn of speed to go clear and take the victory in the Belgian one-day race.
Le Samyn 2021: Quaregnon to Dour (205.4km)
1. Tim Merlier (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix, in 4-34-29
2. Rasmus Tiller (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team
3. Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Intermarché – Wanty – Gobert Matériaux
4. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Israel Start-Up Nation
5. Hugo Hofstetter (Fra) Israel Start-Up Nation
6. Amaury Capiot (Bel) Arkéa-Samsic
7. John Degenkolb (Ger) Lotto-Soudal
8. Dimitri Claeys (Bel) Qhubeka-Assos
9. Timothy Dupont (Bel) Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles
10. Milan Menten (Bel) Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles, all at same time