As Greg Van Avermaet, Peter Sagan and Sep Vanmarcke took the plaudits, Fabio Felline quietly rode himself into an impressive fourth place at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The Trek-Segafredo rider, who had been working for teammate Jasper Stuyven, was in the chasing group behind the leading trio and struck out on the final stretch to the line to finish just off the podium.
His fourth place was all the more impressive given that he had not raced on the cobbles since his debut season with Footon-Servetto back in 2010, and it was enough to earn a few pats on the back from his rivals. It was a tough introduction to the pavé all those years ago but along with a few DNFs, he managed 10th at that year's E3 Harelbeke, albeit three minutes behind the winner Fabian Cancellara.
With so much time between his first and second Classics campaigns, it was like starting afresh for the Italian as he had to get to grips with the Flemish style of racing in real time. There were moments when it felt like things were going wrong but once through the brutal run of climbs and cobbles he was in prime position to utilise his sprint.
So green was Felline to the cobbled Classics he needed a bit of help from Cyclingnews to navigate his way back to the team bus.
"It was a crazy race I think like always in Belgium. I'm not really an expert, and in the first part I was in real difficulty because I don't really understand this style of racing," he told Cyclingnews once back at the safety of the bus just outside the Kuipke velodrome, home of the Gent Six Day. "It was really nervous but I think it helped me because in the final, when they made the selection I was in the front. Maybe I could have followed more behind because in a lot of parts on the cobblestones I wasn't too sure and I was dropped.
"A lot of the time, I felt good, but in this style of race it was impossible to expect anything. Fourth place is for sure a really good result."
Just two months in, it has been a strong season for Felline thus far with a victory at the Trofeo Laigueglia and a strong performance at the Ruta del Sol, where he played a key role for Alberto Contador and took third place in the time trial.
Felline will get another taste of the cobbles in Sunday's Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. Stuyven is the defending champion and will no doubt be the protected rider but, with the way Felline is going, he has surely earned himself a run at the victory in Kuurne.
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