Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) quietly and sportingly accepted defeat at the end of the Strade Bianche race in Siena, admitting that he'd seen that Michal Kwiatkowski was on great form and having a perfect day.
Cancellara was in the select group of riders that formed after the seventh section of dirt roads and even fought to get back on after a puncture but was unable to respond when Peter Sagan (Cannondale) attacked and Kwiatkowski went after him.
Cancellara tried to inspire the chase behind but the race had already slipped his grasp.
"Kwiatkowski was playing with us," he said as he fought the pain of the 200km race and fought to keep hold of his post-race bidon as schoolchildren and tifosi tried to rip it from his hand.
"When I saw him get back, I knew who'd win. Riders know when another rider’s is on a great day, we can see it. He was pedalling really easy and his team was strong too. He was the only one to get across to Peter and then dropped him."
Cancellara has used his strength to win Strade Bianche twice but the rolling hills of Tuscany, the 45km of dirt roads and a stiff side wind made this year's especially selective, almost as selective as an Ardennes Classic.
"This race was different this year. It was much harder. I'm not saying it's become a climber's race but it definitely suits riders who are a lot lighter than me," he said.
"To make things worse, both me and Alejandro Valverde punctured and had to chase at one point. I spent a lot of energy to get back on. I don't know if that cost me a chance of victory but I have to be satisfied. I got back on in the same place where Peter attacked but he made a clever move. That's racing. The strongest rider won Strade Bianche. We all saw that."
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