Thomas Voeckler (France) approached the finale of the world championships road race hoping to triumph by using his wits, but ingenuity had to yield to brute strength on the Cauberg as Philippe Gilbert (Belgium) stormed clear to take the rainbow jersey.
Mindful that he could never hope to match the likes of Gilbert and bronze medallist Alejandro Valverde (Spain) on the stiff slopes of the Cauberg, Voeckler opted to ride within himself on the climb in the hopes of catching them unawares on the interminable drag after the summit.
"I didn't do the last climb full on so that I could try and save my effort for the false flat afterwards," Voeckler told reporters outside the French team bus. "I had good legs, but I knew that my only small chance on this course was to jump away after the effort was made on the Cauberg with 1.5km to go, when the leaders would have no teammates left."
In theory, Voeckler's plan was a sound one, but in practice, it always risked being undone by an individual feat such as Gilbert's. With a surge akin to Beppe Saronni's famous "sparata" in Goodwood 30 years ago, the Belgian duly inscribed his name into both the palmares and the lore of the world championships.
"Gilbert is the only person able to do that, and if he hadn't done that, there wouldn't have been a little group off the front chasing him either," Voeckler said wistfully.
Once over the top, with Gilbert gliding towards the rainbow jersey, Voeckler sprang into action in a bid to salvage a medal, drawing to bring back the chasers who had been strewn across the Limburg hillside. Once he realised that Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway) and Valverde were going to round out the podium, however, Voeckler's motivation waned for the sprint and he came home in 7th place, 5 seconds down on Gilbert.
"I tried to sprint for one of the places of honour, but really, who cares whether you come 4th or 7th?" Voeckler said baldly.
Seeing as he had himself chosen how to play his hand, Voeckler said that he had no complaints afterwards about the way the cards had fallen thereafter. "If I'd done the climb full on, I might have been in the group just behind but that wasn't my tactic," he explained. "In cycling, you have to accept that you risk losing."
Voeckler was the only Frenchman in the lead group on the final lap, and he would cross the line fifty places ahead of their next highest finisher, Sylvain Chavanel. Nonetheless, he insisted that he had no complaints about the French team's showing, pointing out that he had Maxime Bouet and Jerome Coppel for company in the 29-man group that went spent four laps off the front as the race approached its endgame.
"You can always do better," Voeckler said. "It's true that from the second last lap I didn't have any teammates with me, although some of them had fallen, like Tony Gallopin. But from the top of the Cauberg I didn't have to make any superhuman efforts anyway, so I didn't use up any more energy than I would have done. I'm disappointed but I don't have any regrets."