Dutch rider Bobbie Traksel triumphed at the end of a brutal edition of the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne semi-Classic in Belgium, which was held in appalling conditions.
Traksel outsprinted his compatriot Rick Flens of Rabobank and Team Sky’s Ian Stannard at the finish.
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Sunday’s race was a war of attrition as heavy rain and strong wind battered the peloton and made it into a day for the strong-willed as much as the physically powerful.
The finish was a gripping tactical battle between the three riders who had taken off in the second half of the race
The bunch split early on and several big name riders – including Team Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecha, winner of Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) and Tom Boonen (Quick Step).
Cervélo looked motivated and had strength in numbers but it was Traksel of the Vacansoleil team who started what turned out to be the winning move.
Stannard and then Flens bridged the gap up to them and, in normal conditions, they would have faced a difficult task staying clear with more than 80 kilometres still to race.
But the way the bunch broke up meant there was never a concerted, well-organised chase. Instead the pursuing riders split into small groups.
For a long time the front three were being chased by Jeremy Hunt and Thor Hushovd (both Cervélo) and Hayden Roulston (HTC-Columbia).
The organisers were forced to bypass the Côte de Trieu climb because a tree had blown down and reportedly blocked part of the road. This alteratin trimmed around 20 kilometres off the scheduled 194km route.
At one point a large plastic dustbin blew into the road, causing Quick Step’s Stijn Devolder to crash.
Stannard and the two Dutchmen ploughed on, but their lead was never more than around 45 seconds as the two Cervélo men chased. Roulston, who rode for Cervélo last year, sat on the back of the chase group, allowing his former team-mates to do all the work.
With 35 kilometres to go, Hunt, the British rider, pulled off the front, slowed down and abandoned the race. Although unusual for a rider to quit when sitting in the second group on the road, he had done a huge amount of work. There was no confirmation of whether he’d suffered an injury.
Behind, Cervélo’s Dominique Rollin attacked what was left of the bunch but the gap, over three minutes, was never going to be bridged.
Then, with 20 kilometres left, Hushovd called up his Cervélo team car, took a drink, slowed down and let Roulston ride on alone without him. This was, effectively, Cervélo accepting that the chase was futile and the front three were going to stay away.
In the final ten kilometres, Flens, Traksel and Stannard began to play out the finish between them. Flens attacked first, then Stannard had a dig. He was shut down quite easily and then lost contact with the two Dutch riders.
Stannard fought back not once, but twice, although the cost of his efforts was that when he opened up the sprint in the final kilometre Traksel followed his wheel easily and then swung round him to take the victory.
1. Bobbie Traksel (Ned) Vacansoleil 174 km in 4-43-14
2. Rick Flens (Ned) Rabobank
3. Ian Stannard (GB) Team Sky at same time
4. Hayden Roulston (NZ) HTC-Columbia at 1-00
5. Dominique Rollin (Can) Cervélo at 2-58
6. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervélo at same time
7. Sebastien Turgot (Fra) BBox-Bouygues Telecom at 5-38
8. Davy Commeyne (Bel) Landbouwkrediet-Colnago at 5-41
9. Gregory Rast (Swi) RadioShack at 5-50
10. Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Rabobank at same time
Thos Hushovd and Jeremy Hunt on the chase
Brit Ian Stannard rode a good race to place third
Last year’s winner Tom Boonen abandons the race
Bobbie Traksel wins