It seemed the cruellest way to finish runner-up. Announced as the winner in the immediate aftermath Amstel Gold Race, Benoît Cosnefroy celebrated what he believed to be his first victory in a major Spring Classic. Until his earpiece crackled into life again.
“Ah shit… they’re saying Kwiato,” the Frenchman mumbled as his face fell.
In an extraordinary repeat of the confusion at this very race 12 months ago, Cosnefroy and Michal Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers) crossed the line neck-and-neck in a two-up sprint for the win, and no one knew which way it had gone.
Cosnefroy later explained that he was told by his team through his earpiece that the official race radio had announced him as the winner. Cue arms in the air and hugs from teammates and soigneurs. However, as he wheeled towards the podium, news filtered through that it had in fact gone to a photo finish with the race jury, and that the images left little doubt that Kwiatkowski was the real winner.
"When I crossed the line, I didn’t really know if I’d won or if I was second. After a few minutes they told me I’d been announced officially as the winner, so there was all the joy that goes with that - I thought I’d won a Classic. I share that moment with my teammates," he said.
"And then… I go to the podium and they tell my I’m second..."
Cosnefroy attempted to smile it off, but there must have been crushing disappointment and perhaps a touch of embarrassment as this all played out in front of the television cameras.
His smiles continued on the podium, and he put on a brave face in his post-race dealings with the media.
"It’s disappointing, but I can be happy with second place. I can be proud of my race and my teammates," Cosnefroy insisted.
This wasn’t just a brave face, however. Cosnefroy genuinely appeared to have turned the page and put things into perspective remarkably quickly.
"That’s a strength of mine - to manage [my emotions] like that. It’s the same in sport as in my normal life. It’s my way of being. I think it helps me at times, it gives me stability. You need that at the top level of sport," he said.
"You lose a lot in cycling and I lost today, but I really enjoyed this Amstel Gold Race. If I'm going to cry about a podium at Amstel, I should stop cycling. For sure I’d have preferred to win. But when you step on the podium it’s still a big moment in a career. There were 175 riders on the start line and only three on the podium. Mathieu Van der Poel was here as one of the big favourites but not on the podium. I don’t know what I have to cry about."
'I rode an almost perfect race'
Cosnefroy had engineered a winning scenario for himself with a strong and well-timed attack from a select group of favourites on the penultimate climb of the Geulhemmerberg with 20km to go. Kwiatkowski was already up the road after the Cauberg and the pair would ride all the way to the finish together.
Kwiatkowski, who won Amstel back in 2015, did start to collaborate but had team leader Tom Pidcock in the group behind, putting the pressure mostly on Cosnefroy. Kwiatkowski took the back seat for the sprint and Cosnefroy opened it from range, looking to have held on until a well-timed bike throw from the Ineos rider threw the whole thing into doubt.
“I rode an almost perfect race,” Cosnefroy said. “I put myself in a winning position but unfortunately I came across someone who was stronger than me in the sprint, and that’s part of the game.
“He had his leader behind, so while I was playing all my cards, he was more up there to make others work. We didn’t have the same strategy nor the same team numbers. But I felt strong and said to myself ‘even if I do more work, it’s possible I can beat him’. In the end it came down to very little, so it wasn’t a completely stupid strategy
“I thought he might be struggling slightly on the uphill sections so I hoped that in a long sprint he would tire but it wasn’t to be, unfortunately. Congrats to him for the win.”
Cosnefroy might not have landed the win he so cherished but there are more opportunities around the corner and his performance on Sunday gave him confidence as he heads into Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday, followed later by La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
“I can feel the form is good - very good even. For sure I’m going to go after a victory.
“I might have less room for manoeuvre now as I’ll be a bit more marked by the others, but this was a good way to start this important period of races for me.”
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