By Daniel Friebe in Varese, Italy
The scoreboard said ninth place and just over half a minute outside the medal places, but the expression on David Millar's face told a different story - one of fatigue and mild dejection.
The Scot had come into this World Championships with designs on a repeat of his 2003 victory in Hamilton - only this time without the performance-enhancing drugs. Not that he needs reminding, but Millar was stripped of his rainbow jersey in 2004, shortly after confessing to the use of EPO ahead of that gold medal-winning performance.
Yesterday he hoped to bring his career full circle in an event which lacked a clear favourite in the absence of Fabian Cancellara, but it wasn't to be. Millar posted the ninth-best time at the first check, after 8.18km, and that was the same position he'd be in after 43.7km.
Speaking to reporters the Garmin team bus serving as the British squad's headquarters for the day, he said it had been "a bad day at the office".
"I thought it started had off good, but then I didn't have it in the second half. It was just average...average me, which is very disappointing, because I was expecting a lot more.
"It's not easy to get it right for a single day," he continued. "There seems to be only one guy who gets it right all the time, and that's Cancellara. Everyone else seems to be a bit hit and miss. It's definitely been more miss for me of late...but, yeah, these seem to be quite unpredictable days. We always seem to get quite an eclectic top ten in these races. To be honest, though, I've put a lot of work into trying to make it predictable and, yet, I still seem to miss out."
Asked whether he had an explanation for falling so far short of his own expectations, Millar shook his head.
"I can't explain it. I thought I'd done everything right. I've done lot of work these last five weeks. I don't know...it's just disappointing, but, then again, five weeks ago I thought it was mission impossible, so to even get to this point was something. Honestly, though, I expected a lot more."
Millar kicked off his season at the Tour of Qatar in January, then raced hard through the spring before making his Giro d'Italia debut in May and riding the Tour de France in July . Most riders would usually head into early hibernation after such a heavy programme, but Millar has fitted in the Tours of Ireland and Britain between two periods of altitude training in the past month.
"I tried something a bit different this time, using the altitude training between the last two races I did and doing a proper taper coming into the Worlds," he explained. "Everything I've done over the past five weeks has been focused on this day, so then to miss out, having sacrificed results in the races I did as preparation, is a bit of a let-down.
"At this particular moment in time, it feels like a very, very long season. If you'd asked me a few hours ago, I felt on top of it, but now, all of a sudden, it feels as though I haven't stopped since January, so maybe I've stretched myself a bit. I'm not feeling my age - I'm feeling the length of the season. It's been a big year for the team."
Millar drew some consolation from the fact that he'll line up in a five-man British team in the men's road race on Sunday. Two years ago in Salzburg, the 31 year old followed up a below-par performance in the time trial with a brilliant if ultimately unrewarded display in the road race.
Millar expects a tough but compelling race on Sunday.
"I think Sunday will be a lot harder than people think," he said. "It's Sod's Law - we've said the last two years that Salzburg was going to be really hard, and Stuttgart was going to be really hard. No-one's saying that about this course so it may well turn out to be really hard. The road races tend to follow a strict pattern - it all comes down to the last lap, and I don't expect this to be any different. A lot depends on the Spanish. I think they'll try to make it really hard, for Valverde."