Vacansoleil's Bobbie Traksel won the semi-classic Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on Sunday. "Bobbie who?" asked some after the finish.
The relatively unknown Traksel is a 28-year-old Dutch rider who gathered 13 victories in 10 years as a professional rider. His biggest win so far was probably the overall win in the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen in 2008.
After winning the under 23 version of the Ronde van Vlaanderen in 2000, Traksel spent four years with Rabobank. No longer considered such a talent, he started riding for Hilaire Van der Schueren's teams.
Traksel is powerfully built rider who likes foul weather, and on Sunday morning the remnants of a storm named Xynthia crossed paths with the semi-Classic Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Yet after fighting his way through powerful winds and continuous rains, Traksel showed up at the post-race press conference looking as if he had just finished a stage at the Ruta del Sol. Shouldn't this man have been shivering from the cold?
"Sometimes they say I'm fat, but in these conditions it's pretty helpful. I can deal well with this foul weather," Traksel said after the race. "Perhaps I should've lowered my armwarmers, just like Steven de Jongh did in the past, to make an impression."
"I'm not getting worse in these races, and I'm able to ride in a supple way, maintaining a small gear, which is crucial in the finale. These races, this weather... this is my environment," said the beaming winner.
"Two years ago, I finished seventh in this race, without having any other races in the legs beforehand. I knew that I was capable of this [win]. February and March are my months. We'll see what happens after that."
After 100 kilometers of racing and after the first feed zone where the first quarter of the peloton hopped into the warm team cars, the race radio crackled, "...an attack by Arnaud van Groen, Rony Martias and Bobbie Traksel".
"'That's stupid,' was what I thought when I attacked," Traksel said to the press after the race. "It was a stupid action. My teammate Arnaud [van Groen] was in front and behind him, there were some counterattacks. I ended up riding in a group of six, but there was no co-operation at all."
"So I attacked to get rid of some guys, hoping the group would work better... but nobody reacted. That was the only time today that I thought that I rode stupidly. Hilaire [Van Der Schueren] even told me to drop back."
"I bridged up with Arnaud, and we discussed whether or not we would continue," said the race winner. "We decided to go on until the Kanarieberg... still being up front, our next goal was the Kruisberg. It was too bad Arnaud dropped back there. He's my training buddy. He said he had a sore back," Traksel said of the moment on the Kruisberg when his teammate wasn't able to keep up with him.
After the Oude Kwaremont, Ian Stannard and Rick Flens bridged up to Traksel. Behind the three leaders, nobody wanted to take the initiative in bringing the breakaway back.
Almost by accident Thor Hushovd, Jeremy Hunt and Hayden Roulston distanced themselves from the rest of the main chase group. The three closed down a minute of the gap to Traksel and company, but the remaining 30 seconds proved elusive. Eventually Hunt quit the race and even Hushovd gave up his flat out effort.
The three riders at the front - all of whom weren't even considered as having an outside shot at the win - would battle for a glorious victory after epic sort of voyage.
"In the finale, it felt like the others were playing a tactical game," said Traksel. "Then again, I had noticed that they were riding two gears bigger than me. Stuff like that is crucial. All day long I never rode at my maximum. Stannard was strong, but in the last kilometer he got dropped, so I knew a sprint would seal it [for me]."
After winning that U23 Ronde van Vlaanderen, a grand future was predicted for Traksel, but he was never able to build upon it. When asked where things went wrong, Traksel pointed his finger toward the Rabobank team. "The follow-up back then wasn't what it is now. The situation at Rabobank improved a lot. They have more directors, which means they can spend more time on each rider. That's what I needed back then."
"I was forced to re-invent the wheel while they had the knowledge. I've lost several years because of that," Traksel said.
Six years later, the Dutchman has taken a semi-Classic victory. Maybe winning the Ronde van Vlaanderen with the big men is finally possible? "I've been a professional rider for 10 years now. I've been written off five times, and I've been praised into heaven five times. I'm not Boasson Hagen, I'm Traksel."
"I will always win my races each season and sometimes they're bigger than at other times. This one is huge for me," said Traksel. "In the past, I thought I had my chances in races like the Ronde van Vlaanderen, but now I'm realistic enough to know that in normal circumstances, it isn't possible."
"I've become smarter. These days I'm choosing my races carefully. If I can't win, I don't bother and I'm working for the team. It's not easy to get recognition for that. Anyway, I'm very happy I won and that my newborn little girl was there, even though she's too young to remember; it's a good thing that from this race, she'll have a new cuddly animal," said Traksel, referring to the stuffed toy donkey he received on the podium.
In one month from now, the Ronde van Vlaanderen will be contested on more or less the same roads as Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. If the forecast predicts foul weather, then more than one gambler will likely place a bet on Bobbie Traksel.