So near but yet so far: Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) was the strongest challenger to Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) of all the contenders in this year's Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but alas, and as in Flèche Wallonne five days earlier, Martin could not out-power the Spaniard.
On this occasion, Martin's late attack in the final kilometre left all the field reeling, barring one rider – Valverde. The Spanish veteran, recognising that Martin's move was the most dangerous of them all, quickly closed the gap and then shot past the Irishman to take his fourth victory in La Doyenne.
Martin said that when he attacked on the final ascent to Ans, he was not thinking of Valverde, rather he had "no idea what happened behind. When I went I knew he was on my wheels and I thought I might have got the jump on him and maybe he would hesitate.
"But obviously he was strong enough to come across to me and I had no idea if I even had a gap I just knew I had committed to the finish line and I just had to go.
"When Alejandro came past me in the corner, I just hoped nobody else would come past me as I was just trying to get to the finish line as fast as possible."
As Martin said afterwards, the lack of Ardennes Classics specialists of the caliber of Philippe Gilbert and Julian Alaphilippe in the Quick-Step Floors line-up made Liège-Bastogne-Liège a much harder challenge tactically than it might have been. But his team more than delivered.
"I'm really, really proud of them, they don't have much experience over this distance and in Liège and they rode out of their skins to deliver me to this result," Martin said. "I added it up this morning, take Dries [Devenyns] out of the team and I've got more experience in this race than all the others put together."
Martin consistency has not only enabled him to continue his team's run of podium finishes in the Classics. 2017 has also been his most successful Ardennes Week since he won Liège-Bastogne-Liège outright in 2013. Even if two successive defeats by Valverde won't be forgotten quickly, that solid series of results is surely not the smallest of consolation prizes for Martin.
His second place also means that the Belgian squad's Classics campaign ended with a rider on each podium (except Gent-Wevelgem - ed) from Milan-San Remo through to the final Monument.
There was no getting away from the impact of the tragic death of Michele Scarponi, and after Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Martin delivered an impassioned series of reflections on how much the Italian's tragic death had affected the peloton in general and him in particular.
"Honestly today [Sunday], we tried not to think about it – we're in race mode again. But yesterday [Saturday] we got the news when we were eating breakfast and I just didn't feel like eating anymore, I just had that sick feeling [you get] in the pit of your stomach," Martin said.
"When something like that happens it's really difficult because every cyclist – it doesn't matter whether you're a professional or anybody – you always take it for granted that you're going to come home when you go out, and he didn't.
"It's hard to put into words, it's the feeling that you're fortunate to be going home tonight to your family. It brings it home how dangerous the roads can be and how vulnerable we are as cyclists on the roads.
"I raced with Michele my whole career and obviously I didn't know him personally but he was somebody who always had a laugh and a joke even if you didn't really know him. It's difficult to think that someone you've seen in the peloton so much – you're never going to see him again."
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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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