Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) finished a minute behind Cadel Evans at Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, but was just glad to have made it to the finish in one piece after almost being caught in a high-speed crash in the finale of the race.
Wiggins finished 67th, having worked to set up teammate Thomas Löfkvist for the race's famed finish atop the Mur de Huy. However, his role in Löfkvist's eventual 23rd place finish was cut short when he was caught behind a crash involving Ivan Velasco (Euskaltel-Euskadi) with three kilometres to go.
"It was mad. I nearly got killed at the end there when that Euskaltel rider crashed into the middle of the road," Wiggins told Cyclingnews at the finish in Huy. "I was sort of at the front and his bike came my way and I just thought I was going to go. I slammed on the brakes and I was at the back then, and that was it."
This year's Flèche Wallonne represented Wiggins' first participation in the mid-week Classic. Despite showing signs of early-season form with third place overall at the Tour of Murcia last month, he admitted that his inexperience at the event and the nature of the course had led him to play the role of domestique for his teammate, Löfkvist.
"I'd never done this race, so I didn't really know what to expect," he said. "That was a really hard race - really, really hard. Up, down, left, right, also the speed and the crashes made it a tough one. There was no one cruising around today. I was going to have a go to try and set Thomas up for the finish - It wasn't really a finish for me.
"We'll get ready to go for [Liège-Bastogne-Liège], it's good to get an idea of what these races are all about."
Riders in Belgium, minds on Italy
While their rivals retired to their team buses for the return journey to their respective team hotels, Sky's riders remounted their bikes to add a few extra kilometres to the 198 they had just completed in Wednesday's race. A number of riders, including Wiggins, are using the Ardennes Classics to prime themselves for the Giro d'Italia, which gets under way in Amsterdam, the Netherlands in just over a fortnight.
"Yeah, [my preparation for the Giro is] going well," said Wiggins. "I'm looking forward to it actually."
Chris Froome is another using the Ardennes Classics to get some exposure to high-tempo racing before the Giro. On Wednesday at Flèche Wallonne the 24-year-old showed he is coming into good form as he joined a powerful mid-race chase group, that also featured Saxo Bank's Jens Voigt and Laurent Didier.
"I think it was just important for the team to be present there. Especially when a guy like Jens [Voigt] goes with a teammate like that; he's pretty renowned for those sorts of breaks - so I felt it was important for one of the team to be there to take the pressure off us from having to chase," he told Cyclingnews. "Yeah, it was a bit of a gamble, but you've got to gamble to win.
"Today was pretty flat-out, but, of course, that's racing. I'm busy getting ready for the Giro d'Italia, so all these races I'm looking to do flat-out now. I'm not holding anything back, that's for sure."