Second in the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) started La Flèche Wallonne as a strong favourite, but as the Pole said afterwards, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) remained - for a fourth straight time - another level above the rest of the field on the Mur de Huy.
Third in 2014 in the Ardennes mid-week Classic, as well as fifth in 2013, and racing La Flèche Wallonne as one of two options for Team Sky with Sergio Henao, Kwiatkowski had skipped most of the cobbled Classics after winning Milan-San Remo and Strade Bianche to be in top form for the Ardennes.
And although he was clearly in contention, just as in Amstel Gold where he was outgunned by Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors), the Pole was once again outclassed on the Mur de Huy, finally crossing the line in seventh place.
"The end was simply a lot of pain," the Pole said ruefully afterwards as he rolled through the crowds milling at the summit of the Mur de Huy towards a well-earned rest and shower.
"It was a tough one, we were well positioned with Sergio [Henao] and our boys did an amazing job at the end of the race, I saw many people were on their knees."
Coming into the Mur de Huy, "[Diego] Rosa led us out and Gianni Moscon was chasing [breakaway Bob] Jungels (Quick Step Floors) from the second last climb, so we can be pleased about that."
Further strengthening Sky's hand was the fact that, unsurprisingly given their status as stand-out favourites, Movistar had been handed all of the responsibility for holding the race together. Although Orica-Scott offered some assistance to the Spanish team, Sky could ease back a little en route to the final hour, when they began to do some work on the front.
"It was up to Movistar to control the race, and in the last kilometre we were all there," Kwiatkowski said.
But he admitted that ultimately it did not matter how well Sky's men were placed on the chessboard at the foot of the Mur, it proved frustratingly impossible to follow Valverde when the Spaniard was on such a good day.
"It looked like we had everything under control, but I just missed a little bit of acceleration compared to Alejandro," Kwiatkowski reflected, before pointing out that Valverde's control of affairs on the Mur de Huy remains as solid as ever. "He did what he wanted, you know."
A second place in Amstel and a seventh in Flèche Wallonne show that Kwiatkowski's Ardennes bid was in no way misjudged or miscalculated in terms of form. The Pole says he is looking forward to Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, where the former World Champion will form an integral part of Sky's bid to win la Doyenne twice in a row. "For sure we will be up there to fight for the victory," Kwiatkowski argued. "Let's just hope for good weather."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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