A crafty Bobbie Traksel (Vacansoleil) took a three-up sprint to win a soggy Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on Sunday.
Traksel held his fire in the finale of the 194km race, following the wheels as Rick Flens (Rabobank) and Ian Stannard (Team Sky) took turns attacking each other. When he finally pulled the trigger, he easily shot away from his companions to win by a half-dozen bike lengths.
Traksel was particularly happy to win here, as it was at Kuurne that he made his debut as a professional in 2002.
“The Tour of Qatar and the Tour Méditerranéen are very good. But Kuurne — this is a real race,” said the beaming 28-year-old.
It was miserably wet and windy for the 63rd edition of K-B-K, with temperatures in the 40s, and arm and knee warmers constituted the uniform of the day, with some opting to add a rain cape. Others decided no amount of clothing could cut the chill and abandoned, among them Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Nick Nuyens (Rabobank), Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky), winner of Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
With 52km to go Traksel, Stannard and Flens were off the front with Thor Hushovd and Jeremy Hunt (both Cervélo TestTeam) and Hayden Roulston (HTC-Columbia) chasing at about a minute.
As the main chase dwindled to a disorganized baker’s dozen or so, more than three minutes down on the lead trio, Dominique Rollin (Cervélo) jumped out and tried to bridge to his teammates. Davy Commeyne (Landbouwkrediet) soon followed, and the two dangled in no-man’s land.
With 36km to race the lead trio clung to a margin of 40 seconds over their pursuers, down to two after Hunt quit the race. The gap remained unchanged as the two groups began the first of two 14km finishing circuits. Rollin was at 3:40, with Commeyne a further minute in arrears, and the remains of the main chase group more than five minutes behind.
Twenty kilometers from the finish Hushovd dropped back to his team car for a bottle and a lengthy chat, leaving Roulston to soldier on alone. But the Kiwi was losing ground — the lead trio had extended its margin to nearly a minute with 17km to go.
The leaders hit the bell lap with a margin of 51 seconds over Roulston, with Hushovd nearly three minutes down and Rollin a further 40 seconds behind, and it seemed certain that the winner would come from the lead trio.
Flens was first to throw down with 9km to race. He took only a couple of bike lengths before Stannard closed the gap with Traksel glued to his wheel. A few kilometers further along and Stannard had a dig of his own. Flens easily shut him down, with Traksel once again bringing up the rear.
Then Stannard attacked a second time, and this time Flens did not respond immediately, looking to Traksel to do some work. He did not, and once again Flens clawed Stannard back with the Vacansoleil rider in his slipstream.
A third attack from Stannard went nowhere, and then Flens punched it. Stannard was briefly distanced but with 3km to go it was once again a three-man race, and the cat-and-mouse games began.
Flens attacked with 2km to go and Stannard seemed finally cooked — the Rabobank man rode away with Traksel on his wheel. That didn’t suit him, though, and he sat up, allowing Stannard to catch back on.
The Sky rider went straight to the front and began to lead out a three-up sprint — a battle won by Traksel, who had that little something extra in the tank, shooting away from second wheel to victory. Flens hung on for second with Stannard third.
If Stannard was disappointed at landing the lowest step on the podium after nearly five hours of racing, he didn’t show it. Maybe he was simply too cold.
“It was a really hard day,” he told Belgian TV at the finish. “Just surviving, really.”
Agence France Presse contributed to this report.