In the discussion and prognostication in the week leading up to Milan-San Remo, when it came to Quick-Step Floors all the talk, as always, was of 'options' or 'cards to play'. As it was, they came away from the first Monument of the season with nothing to show for their superior strength in depth, with Elia Viviani their highest finisher in 19th.
While Viviani would wait for a bunch sprint on the Via Roma, Gilbert and Alaphilippe could go on the attack on the Cipressa or Poggio climbs. Even without Fernando Gaviria, fifth last year but ruled out this time with a broken hand, they seemed to have all bases covered.
Gilbert, however, was out of the running before the Poggio had begun after being held up by Mark Cavendish's heavy crash. Even before that, hopes of emulating last year's Tour of Flanders victory with a long-range attack had been scuppered by the headwind blowing up the Ligurian coast.
"When Cavendish crashed, I was just behind him and managed to somehow squeeze and make it through, but lost some positions and couldn't return to the front, as the bunch was going full gas," Gilbert said.
"Before the race, I thought about trying something from afar, but with the strong headwind on the Cipressa it was impossible, there really wasn't any opportunity to attack. I'll take from this race the fact that I felt good, despite the rain and the cold temperatures, and look now with optimism to my next races."
Alaphilippe was well-positioned on the Poggio but, as Kwiatkowski said, Vincenzo Nibali ghosted away and the opportunity was gone in the blink of an eye.
"It was a difficult day, with tough weather conditions. On the Poggio I was tenth wheel or so when Nibali attacked, but when I realized he had gone, it was too late to close the gap," said Alaphilippe.
"With the guys of Bora-hansgrohe controlling things, I decided to help my teammates in the final and gave my all for Elia. Considering all that has happened in the past days, when I couldn't train properly because I was sick, I think I did a good race today."
Two of their options gone, it was all in for Viviani on the Via Roma. The chasing pack hit the flat eight seconds down on Nibali and Quick-Step took control in the final kilometre with Alaphilippe and Max Richeze aiming to lead out Viviani.
In the end, the bunch sprint was a futile one as Nibali celebrated his solo victory, but in any case Viviani's legs were empty and he slipped down the pack and crossed the line in 19th place.
"The entire team did a great race today, and Julian and Max really rode their heart out in the closing kilometers. We tried to go for the victory and I had to do a long sprint, but my legs just didn't help after 300 tough kilometers," said Viviani.
"Maybe we could have stayed low profile in the closing kilometers and fight for a top 10, but we wanted the win today, so that' why we pushed hard. I'm disappointed, but proud of my teammates."
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