Rabobank's Maarten Tjallingii was perhaps the happiest man in the Roubaix velodrome right after the winner of this year's 'Hell of the North', Johan Van Summeren (Garmin-Cervelo). Finishing third, the Dutchman was able to receive podium honours in his favourite race, and even if he missed out on the victory by only 19 seconds, it was an enormous accomplishment for the 33-year-old.
"This is by far the greatest race I've ever done in my life," said Tjallingii on the team's website. "Not the despicable fourth place, but the podium! I am very happy about this result. Of course, winning is the most important thing, but the way in which the race unfolded, this was the best I could do. For me personally, it's an enormous confirmation of what I'm capable of."
Tjallingii was part of the day's first breakaway, which went clear after 100 kilometres of racing. He was one of the main driving forces at the front until the later winner Van Summeren attacked with 15 kilometres to go.
"We were four guys still remaining and on the very last cobblestone sector (Carrefour de l'Arbre) 'Summie' attacked, taking with him the second man. I was sitting in third position and had to close the gap. That was too much, and the end of my winning ambitions," said the Dutchman.
But Tjallingii continued on a solid chase together with RadioShack's Gregory Rast, and was determined enough to hold onto Fabian Cancellara's wheel when the Leopard Trek rider came up on the remaining chasers with just a couple of kilometres to go.
"Three kilometres from the finish Cancellara came up to us. I had expected him sooner than that and had therefore kept a little reserve. I really wanted to keep up with these guys. I thought to myself: 'Now I'm going for the podium, I'm not going to let this opportunity be taken away again.' To be racing like that all day, to have great legs and then finish empty-handed - there was no way I was going to let that happen."
In the sprint for the podium places, Tjallingii eventually only gave in to 'Spartacus' Cancellara, who was saving his honour as the race's great favourite. "The difference between third and fourth is nowadays astronomical. I'm unbelievably happy to have made it on the positive side of the score. I just felt great today, I had fantastic legs on the cobbles," he cheered, even if he had one slight regret.
"It was just a pity that I was sitting on the wrong wheel when Van Summeren jumped. I still felt good enough to go with him. After that, it was a battle between riders that were just completely destroyed. I'm never going to forget this day..."
Tjallingii's most important victories to this day were the Tour of Qinhai Lake and the Tour of Belgium, both in 2006 when he was riding for Skil-Shimano. After one year spent at Lotto, he joined Rabobank two years ago but only ever achieved top ten placings in the Eneco Tour. The podium spot in Paris-Roubaix is definitely the Dutchman's most important race result so far in his career.