Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) continued his impressive run of form, leading home the chase group 1:39 behind winner Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard) to finish just off the podium in fourth at the Tour of Flanders.
Although pleased with the result, the 25-year-old Norwegian was half wondering what might have been as one of the on-form sprinters during the week at the Three Days of De Panne. Kristoff was in cahoots with a strong-looking Sébastien Turgot (Europcar), Greg Van Avermaet, Daniel Oss (BMC), Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step), Sebastian Langeveld (Orica GreenEdge), Oscar Gatto (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) and Edvald Boasson-Hagen (Sky) to name a few that was bearing down on the day's other podium getters, Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol).
"It's a shame that we didn't catch Sagan and Roelandts because then I could have been second," a confident Kristoff told Cyclingnews at the finish in Oudenaarde. "They were strong and we weren't able to catch them. That's how it is."
He admitted, however, that he was almost resigned to a showdown between Cancellara and Sagan on the final time up the Old Kwaremont and the Paterberg.
"I expected it but I'd worked hard the whole race to follow them," he said. "I was just trying to do my race and stay in the front group and I managed that so I'm happy."
Kristoff was eighth in Milan-San Remo and then followed that up with two top-20 results at Dwars door Vlaanderen and Gent-Wevelgem before racing De Panne in the lead up to the centenary edition of the Tour of Flanders. There, he finished third behind Sagan on the opening stage and was fifth on stage 2 before claiming stage 3a and earning a brief stint in the yellow leader's jersey. Aiming for a top-10 performance at De Ronde, to improve on his 15th place in 2012, the Norwegian was already thinking ahead to next Sunday and Paris-Roubaix.
"I'm happy with my condition and I hope it lasts one more week," he grinned, lips cracked and face caked in dirt.
"Normally I haven't been quite so good on Roubaix but I'm feeling quite good on the cobblestones at the moment so I'll try to do my best and hopefully it will be like today."