After 11 years as a professional, Bobbie Traksel (Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team) locked down the biggest win of his career as he out paced Rick Flens (Rabobank) and Ian Stannard (Sky Professional Cycling Team) to win the 63rd edition of Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne in Belgium on Sunday.
In classically brutal Belgian weather conditions, the 28-year-old had instigated what would turn out to be a long, but incredibly worthwhile breakaway. As the weather decimated the peloton behind him, Stannard and Flens were the only riders capable of bridging the gap left by Traksel, and it would come down to that trio to divide the podium.
Third placed Stannard was satisfied with his result on a tough day out for the entire peloton. "This morning I wasn't losing motivation because of the weather forecast; I like this weather, it brings out the best in me," he said.
"Before the Oude Kwaremont I attacked to have space. By doing so I could avoid crashes and choose my own line on the cobbles. I'm very happy. I rate this result very high. I haven't achieved much on the road so far," he continued. "It was so cold today. In the end I could not concentrate anymore."
Xynthia torments the peloton
Raw drizzling rain at the start in Kuurne didn't bode well for the conditions the peloton would face during Sunday's race. The storm Xynthia was due to pass through Flanders on Sunday afternoon and wind speeds of up to 130 kilometres per hour were predicted across the region.
Still, 198 riders took to the start line in Kuurne, though Matti Breschel (Saxo Bank), Sébastien Hinault (Ag2R-La Mondiale) and Francesco Di Paolo (Aqua & Sapone) had already headed home after Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday.
A group of sixteen wasn't satisfied to sit back and quickly conspired to attack in the rain. A strong tailwind kept the speed high and saw riders battling to keep up. A number dropped back or crashed out like Lloyd Mondory (Ag2R-La Mondiale), who abandoned the race.
Soon afterwards the breakaway group was caught back at a closed railway crossing. After less than an hour the peloton broke in two, with about fifty riders relegated to a second group, whose presence in the race would soon end.
Averaging 45 kilometres an hour, the first peloton reached the first feed zone after less than two hours racing; the second peloton was already several minutes behind this group and abandoned the race. Some big names were featured in this group: Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Filippo Pozzato (Katusha), Nick Nuyens (Rabobank), Gert Steegmans (RadioShack), Niko Eeckhout (An Post) and Saturday's winner Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky).
Traksel makes his move
The foul weather continued to torture the riders who remained in the race, but as the group approached the first hills of the day two riders attacked: Vacansoleil team-mates Bobbie Traksel and Arnaud van Groen quickly gathered a minute over what remained of the peloton.
At the Kruisberg, Jeremy Hunt (Cervélo TestTeam) and Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) accelerated and their efforts resulted in a new chasing group. Hunt and Roelandts were joined by Leif Hoste (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Rabobank's Maarten Tjallingii, Rick Flens and Sebastian Langeveld, RadioShack's Sebastien Rosseler and Gregory Rast, Ian Stannard (Sky), Cervélo's Brett Lancaster, Dominique Rollin and Thor Hushovd, as well as Davy Commeyne (Landbouwcredit-Colnago). Van Groen was dropped by his team-mate after the Kruisberg and he, too, joined the first chasers.
With the tailwind now giving way to a strong headwind the speed dropped down to twenty kilometers an hour. Yet, just before the Oude Kwaremont, Stannard went in the counterattack. After the Oude Kwaremont, Stannard and Flens linked up with Traksel, to create a three-man leading group. Word came through that the loop towards the Cote de Trieu was cancelled due to the strong winds, a decision that made the race twenty kilometres shorter.
As the race progressed, riders gradually returned from the background adding members to a now eighteen-man chase, with Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) the biggest name amongst the late arrivals.
Cervélo's soldiers surge
Cervélo appeared the only team who wanted to work as the leader's advantage reached a minute and a half. Suddenly, Hunt, Hayden Roulston and Hushovd gapped their companions without any noticeable acceleration, quickly taking half a minute on the rest.
After the ascent of the cobbled Nokereberg Cervélo's trio of chasers followed at forty seconds, while the rest trailed by more than two minutes.
Then, a third Cervélo-rider attacked the second chasing group. Nobody was able to follow Rollin - and though he faced an uphill task - Cervélo had a third man near the front. On the long and winding roads back to Kuurne the first chasing group with Hushovd, Roulston and Hunt cracked despite the gap dipping down to less than half a minute.
Around forty kilometres from the finish Flens, Traksel and Stannard held 45 seconds on the three chasers, then Rollin at long distance, with Commeyne also solo ahead of the remnants of the 'peloton'. Some ten kilometres later a spent Jeremy Hunt suddenly stepped off the bike and into the team car, despite his position in a group that was racing for fourth place; a reflection of how much energy the storm had taken from the riders.
After four hours of racing against the elements, the leaders came through for their first passage of the finish line. Hushovd and Roulston trailed by 41 seconds, Rollin crossed the line at 3:44 and then a group containing Rast, Commeyne and Van Groen followed through at 4:20. Those behind rode - not chased - at more than five minutes.
Fifteen kilometers after Hunt had pulled out of the race Hushovd, too, began to show the effects. The tough Norwegian let go of Roulston and slipped back in the direction of his team car. At first, Roulston didn't notice Hushovd's departure, but once aware of his independence, he waited. It quickly became aware that Hushovd had had enough and Roulston continued alone against the wind and rain. With one local lap to go Roulston trailed the three leaders by more than a minute, while Hushovd was about to be picked up by Rollin three minutes further back.
Traksel ties it up
With the race now almost certain to be decided by the three men up front, Flens was the first to flex his muscles. With nine kilometres to ride, the Dutchman scampered away but was quickly reeled in by Stannard, who countered with a move of his own.
As Flens and Stannard parried one another, Traksel was able to observe the movements. Another move by Flens was shut down by the Vacansoleil rider, who seemed determined to face a sprint finish.
With just over 1000 metres to race Stannard once again took off, but as that move failed it was clear Traksel's wish would come to fruition. The Dutchman made the opportunity count as he drove away from Flens and Stannard to seal the biggest win of his career. Flens was the next to finish, while Stannard secured Sky's second podium result of the weekend.
Roulston's brave pursuit resulted in a fourth placed finish, around a minute behind the trio.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Bobbie Traksel (Ned) Vacansoleil||4:43:16|
|2||Rick Flens (Ned) Rabobank|
|3||Ian Stannard (GBr) Team Sky||0:00:02|
|4||Hayden Roulston (NZl) Team HTC -Columbia||0:01:00|
|5||Dominique Rollin (Can) Cervelo TestTeam||0:02:59|
|6||Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo TestTeam|
|7||Sébastien Turgot (Fra) BBOX Bouygues Telecom||0:05:40|
|8||Davy Commeyne (Bel) Landbouwkrediet – Colnago||0:05:43|
|9||Grégory Rast (Swi) Radioshack||0:05:54|
|10||Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Rabobank||0:05:55|
|11||Martin Mortensen (Den) Vacansoleil||0:06:01|
|12||Wouter Weylandt (Bel) Quick Step||0:06:41|
|13||Kristof Goddaert (Bel) AG2R – La Mondiale|
|14||Sébastien Rosseler (Bel) Radioshack||0:06:44|
|15||Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Omega Pharma - Lotto||0:06:46|
|16||Leif Hoste (Bel) Omega Pharma - Lotto||0:06:50|
|17||Kenny Robert Van Hummel (Ned) Skil - Shimano|
|18||Brett Lancaster (Aus) Cervelo TestTeam|
|19||Romain Zingle (Bel) Cofidis, Le Crédit En Ligne|
|20||Hans Dekkers (Ned) Landbouwkrediet – Colnago||0:06:55|
|21||Pieter Ghyllebert (Bel) An Post – Sean Kelly Team||0:06:56|
|22||Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step||0:07:09|
|23||Yoann Offredo (Fra) Française des Jeux||0:07:29|
|24||Nico Sijmens (Bel) Cofidis, Le Crédit En Ligne||0:09:05|
|25||Markus Eichler (Ger) Team Milram||0:09:46|
|26||Mathew Hayman (Aus) Team Sky||0:13:58|