Italy's Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) tried desperately to take second place behind Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) at Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, but was just beaten by Canada's Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) at the summit of the Cauberg.
Gasparotto drowned his sorrows with a beer during the post-race press conference, but was satisfied with third place in just his second ever participation at the Dutch Classic.
Gasparotto often missed the race or had to sacrifice his chances when he rode with Liquigas and Lampre because other riders wanted the team built around them. On Sunday, Gasparotto was the protected rider at Astana for the 2010 race and proved the tough uphill finish sprint suits him perfectly. Only a super strong Gilbert stopped Gasparotto becoming the sixth Italian to win the Amstel Gold Race after Stefano Zanini (1996), Michele Bartoli (2002), Davide Rebellin (2004), Danilo Di Luca (2005) and Damiano Cunego (2008).
"I was ready for the sprint but Gilbert was the strongest and there was nothing I could do when he accelerated away," Gasparotto told Cyclingnews as he acknowledged the strongest man had won the day.
"Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas-Doimo) closed me against the barriers a little bit in the sprint but Gilbert is Gilbert and he was unbeatable in the finale. Maybe I could have got second instead of third but I couldn't have won. I'm still happy. I've always said this race suits me and so now I'll target it more in the future and hopefully be even stronger next year."
Like many rider in the race, Gasparotto was forced to drive to the Netherlands from Italy because of the transport problems caused by Volcano Eyjafjallajökull.
"I'd been training at altitude with Maxim Iglinskiy in Tenerife and we only got back to Italy on Friday and then we had to drive up here like everyone else," he said.
"I didn’t feel great because of that and so the team kept telling me 'stay on the wheels, stay on the wheels'. I did and it almost worked because everything came back together."
Of the three Ardennes Classics, Gasparotto is only scheduled to ride the Amstel Gold Race and will return home by car on Monday. His next objective will be the Giro d'Italia. He said will try to win some of the sprint stages, but knows his main task will be to help Astana team leader Alexandre Vinokourov.
"I'm happy because I've shown my form is good. When I finally get home I'll do some recovery and then get ready for the Giro. Vino wants a strong team with him because he's targeting victory, so we're going to have to be ready to suffer."