Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors) and Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) shook hands soon after they crossed the finish line at Strade Bianche. It was a sign of respect and gratitude for their shared pursuit of winner Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) but it also displayed their regret and disappointment at not being to pull back the Pole, who soled to victory in the ancient centre of Siena.
Wellens finished third and so at least had a moment on the podium. Stybar was fourth and sat on the floor for several moments as he tried to recover from his huge effort. But he was soon smiling and happy about his race even with the dirt of the strade bianche still covering his face.
"Today was amazing. It was really enjoyable cycling. The race was open really early because of the crash. The Lotto guys were strong, just pulling and at one point, we were down to six or seven of us with still around 100km to go. Incredible," he said.
"I'm quite disappointed on one hand. Fourth is not what I wanted to achieve here, but it was a really hard race and Kwiatkowski was really strong. I think everyone was on the same level, and then it was just about who would choose the right moment and who would hesitate behind.
"Kwiatkowski did the best move of the race. We hesitated for a while, and then you know how it is, everyone was looking at each other and he had 10 seconds and everyone knows how Kwiatkowski is strong and it's hard to catch him back."
Wellens enjoys an aggressive, honest race
Wellens was also disappointed but took pride from seeing his Lotto Soudal team take on the race and set him up for the finale. The red jerseys hit the front with more than 100km left to race in the Tuscan hills. A huge crash split the peloton behind them and ended several teams' chances. Lotto Soudal had a numerical advantage, and then Wellens was there to fight with Kwiatkowski, Stybar and Van Avermaet.
"Our team tactic was to go full out on the fourth or fifth dirt-road sector and go full gas. After that it was in small pieces and so after we just kept riding," he explained with a smile.
"Then the race got harder and harder and I got in front with Kwiatkowski, Stybar and Van Avermaet. When Kwiatkowski had a gap we were looking at each other and nobody reacted, so he got away. It was a strong effort from Kwiatkowski; we cooperated really well, but couldn’t catch him anymore. My tank was empty."
"Entering the last kilometre, I got in last position," Wellens said. "Van Avermaet started the sprint and obviously was the best. I could pass Stybar before the last corner.
"I can be happy with third place behind Kwiatkowski and Stybar. It was an honest race; everyone got the place they deserved. Strade Bianche is a beautiful race. I am glad I rode it and will definitely come back."