World Champion and three-time La Flèche Wallonne winner Julian Alaphilippe was among the main favourites for the title at Wednesday's race, but despite a strong display from his QuickStep-AlphaVinyl team on the hills of Wallonia he came unstuck on the Mur de Huy, finishing 'just' fourth.
Following an arduous cobbled Classics campaign from the Belgian squad, which saw the QuickStep-AlphaVinyl team fail to rack up any podiums after Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, it was expected that Alaphilippe, who has been in fine form this spring, could salvage a result in the Ardennes.
After the race, he said that he was relieved that La Flèche Wallonne was over, having felt the effects of the pressure on him to take a Classics win for the team beforehand.
"Honestly, the first feeling is that I'm relieved – relieved the race is over," Alaphilippe said. "I obviously had quite a bit of pressure on my shoulders before the start and I just focused on doing the best race possible.
"I don't have regrets because the team did great work today. I have to thank them. In the final, it was the legs that spoke. I did what I could. I think my positioning wasn't too bad. Movistar created a gap and then Dylan Teuns attacked. Even if I had been further up, I don't think I could have won. No regrets, I don't think it would have changed a lot."
Alaphilippe crossed the line five seconds down on Bahrain Victorious' Teuns, who won out in the duel with five-time Flèche champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). He said that he wasn't far off his best form on the Mur de Huy, even if the final result wasn't there, and hopes to be fully flying in Liège – where he's finished twice a runner-up – on Sunday.
"I have been stronger in the past, but I'm not far off either," he said. "Today I did what I could, I hope it will be better in Liège.
"I have the impression that the pressure rises a bit every year, especially after everything that's been said about our start to the season and that. I'd like to have won for the team and for myself, especially with the rainbow jersey for a second time. But again, like I said, no regrets."
The QuickStep-AlphaVinyl squad was visible on the front of the peloton for large spells of the day as they sought to help Alaphilippe to win number four in Huy, with Remco Evenepoel putting in a stint of work in service of his team leader, too.
The young Belgian lead the peloton into the final of three ascents of the climb and said later that he felt his team rode a perfect race.
"I think we rode the perfect race as a team, but the win wasn't on the cards," he said. "I knew I was here to serve, and I enjoyed it. I'm not the kind of rider to compete for the victory here.
"I dropped Julian off at the foot of the climb and from there it was a man-to-man battle. Unfortunately, the win wasn't possible."
Evenepoel added that he had a good feeling about the race, despite suffering with hayfever during the 202km run from Blegny to Huy across 11 major climbs and many more besides. He said he hopes to be in full form and avoid a repeat on Sunday.
"We'll see," he said of Liège. "I struggled with the pollen today, so I hope I don't get sicker. I've had this problem all my life. Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a different race, much longer with longer efforts and less nerves in the peloton as the parcours isn't as technical."
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Daniel Ostanek is Senior News Writer at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired full-time. Prior to joining the team, he had written for numerous major publications in the cycling world, including CyclingWeekly, Rouleur, and CyclingTips.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France and the spring Classics, and has interviewed many of the sport's biggest stars, including Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Demi Vollering, and Anna van der Breggen.
As well as original reporting, news and feature writing, and production work, Daniel also oversees The Leadout newsletter and How to Watch guides throughout the season. His favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Volta a Portugal.