Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli) was left to rue an error in the finishing sprint at Gent-Wevelgem, but he was determined to focus on the positives after the first of three consecutive Sundays of racing on the cobbles.
The Italian crossed the line a distant 9th place behind winner Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) after sprinting from distance into a headwind, but he had earlier shown further signs of his growing form on the slopes of the Kemmelberg.
So often criticised for his hesitancy in clutch situations, Pozzato was perhaps a victim of his own eagerness in the finale of Gent-Wevelgem; when Luca Paolini (Katusha) switched sides and left Pozzato exposed with 500 metres to go, he opted to launch his effort early rather than slip back into the wheels.
"Paolini moved and made the gap. I made a mistake because I should have left the others go past," Pozzato "It was the first time in a while I was up here in the finale and I wanted to have a go, but instead I brought the others up and led out the sprint for them. Still, my condition is good and that's the main thing."
By contrast, Boonen pitched his winning effort to perfection. Mindful of the headwind, the Belgian was sitting in tenth wheel as the 25-man lead group came under the red kite, yet all but drifted through the bodies to come through to take his third victory in the classic.
"It was a bit of a strange sprint because the wind was against us and we needed to wait for a long time," said Pozzato. "Tom was good because he only came out in the last 50 metres. He did well to wait."
While Pozzato came away disappointed that he and teammate Oscar Gatto hadn't connected in the finishing straight and come closer to the podium, he could take some solace from his display on the two ascensions of the Kemmelberg. He led the race the first time up the climb in a bid to string things out, although poor positioning ahead of the second ascension limited his possibilities.
"The first time we went up, I could see that GreenEdge was on the front but going up there really slowly to try and keep the whole team together," he said. "I wanted to attack the second time we went up there, but I wasn't able to take it from the front. Instead, I started off at the back of the group, but I still made it over the top with the best of them in front, because I went up it hard.
"In any case, I'm happy because my condition is really good and day by day it's growing. That's the main thing ahead of the next two Sundays."
Pozzato will be happy to let Boonen and Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) carry the weight of expectation on the road to Oudenaarde next Sunday, and he admitted that was perplexed by his former Mapei teammate Cancellara's acceleration over the top of the Monteberg with over 30km still to go to Wevelgem.
"It was a bit of strange moment. I didn't react and I told Gatto to stay calm because there were still four QuickStep riders up there, and one of them would have to close him down," Pozzato said. "There were still 30km to go the finish and it was a long way to go to the finish. Even if Cancellara is going strong, if you do 30km alone with a group of 20 riders behind, it's hard to get away."
For his part, after his broken collarbone at the Tour of Qatar last month, not to mention the calculated gamble he took in dropping down to a Pro Continental team in the first place, Pozzato is glad to be in the mix with the main contenders as De Ronde beckons.
"I've given everything to get this far, and I'm happy with how I've come here, because there were times we didn't think we'd even get to race never mind be protagonists."
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