Belgian star Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) finished fourth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, having carried the title of favourite into the race after winning Amstel Gold-Race one week earlier.
The 27 year-old Walloon rider rode a home race in the Ardennes and left his mark on the 2010 edition of the event. In the end however, Gilbert fell short of victory, as Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) and Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) rode clear to claim the first two places. The Kazakhstan and Russian rider had snuck away after counter attacking Gilbert's own attack with Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) and Alberto Contador (Astana) on the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons.
"I was quiet good today. I joined Andy Schleck when he accelerated on the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons climb, but still Contador came back, and then the rest. Then I was on my own while others had several cards to play. The attacks were flying around and I couldn't react to everything. To respond to those attacks I needed another teammate. Jurgen Van den Broeck was good, did all he could, but he wasn't 100 per cent," Gilbert said.
Gilbert had made a final bid to bridge to the leading pair in the closing metres of the Côte de Saint Nicholas, six kilometres from the finish in Ans. He attacked chase-group companions Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) as the trio came to the summit of the final climb of the race.
"I tried to return on my own on the last climb but Valverde and Evans came back. We were not going slow on the last climbs but the two in front had a good gap and must've been going fast," Gilbert said. "I'm finishing just off the podium. It would've been fun to be on it, but finishing second, third or fourth doesn't matter that much, it's the victory that matters most."
He also paid tribute to the winner, Vinokourov, who, like Gilbert, lives in Monaco. "It's the first or second victory [this season] for Vinokourov. He has a lot of class. I've seen him during the holidays and he didn't look bad. He was good."
After the race, Gilbert's disappointment was tempered by the knowledge that he is likely to move to the top of the International Cycling Union's lastest ProTour rankings, when they are released on Monday.
Thanks to his fourth place, and a 44th-placed result from Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha), the Belgian is expected to move into the position of world number one.
"That's great. It's a consolation. Too bad there's no jersey but it's nice anyway. I've never been the world's number one," Gilbert said.
Gilbert's next race will be the Tour of Romandie, where he'll try to convert his good form into more ProTour points.