Fränk and Andy Schleck were two of the biggest pre-race favourites for Amstel Gold Race but the brothers came up short in Sunday's Dutch Classics. Fränk finished the higher of the brothers, in seventh, while Andy crossed the line in 18th.
Despite showing good form and aggressive race tactics, it was a disappointing result for the Saxo Bank duo, who had dreamed of dividing Amstel and Liège - Bastogne - Liège between them.
However both riders were two of the strongest protagonists in today's race. Andy was the first genuine candidate to show his hand with a strong dig on the Eyserbosweg with around 20 kilometres to race. It whittled down the leaders to just a handful of riders, including Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Sergie Ivanov (Katusha) and eventual winner Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto).
The group were soon caught, and Fränk immediately countered, but his move was also nullified. At the finish in Valkenburg Andy admitted that the good conditions had been a huge factor in keeping the race together for so long and that he was surprised that so many riders arrived at the final climb, the Caugberg, together.
"It's been a good race but when we went on the Eyserbosweg we knew we had to go from far," he told Cyclingnews. "There were five or six of us at the top but I've not seen Amstel like that, maybe the conditions made it easier in years before because there were so many still there. After the Eyserbosweg it's not normally like that."
With the leaders regrouping at the foot of the Cauberg, both Schlecks were unable to respond to Gilbert, who timed his move to perfection.
"When we got to the final 10 kilometres I was cramping a bit. I had something missing on the last climb."
Despite missing out on a win, the Schlecks will take confidence in the fact that they both have form. Andy missed the start of the season due to injury and Frank only recently recovered from a crash in Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco and while neither has a win yet in 2010, both Flèche and Liège are ideally suited to their strengths.
"I'm happy and looking forward to the next races. I was missing a bit in the end today but my condition is good and I'm looking forward to the next two races, " said Andy.
As for his attack on the Eyserbosweg, Andy added that it was the right time to attack and that waiting until the finale would have been too much of a gamble. "It was the right time, the key point to attack," he said. "The conditions were not like years before and so many were coming back. In the beginning we had Gilbert and Cunego and there were five or six and then there were 11 and then there were 30."
Team boss Bjarne Riis also played down the significance of today's result, pointing to the strong showing from his entire team, not just the Schlecks. Just as in the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, Saxo Bank took the race by the scruff of the neck in an attempt to put its opposition on the back foot, but unlike the cobbled Classics, they were missing Fabian Cancellara, who ruled himself out of the race after victory in Flanders and Roubaix.
"Gilbert had better legs today. He was the strongest and he deserved to win," Riis told Cyclingnews. "But the whole team knew what we wanted to do and we tried everything. Sometimes it doesn't work out and it's just like that. I'm happy."
"We wanted to put pressure on the rest and take the lead but sometimes it doesn't pay off. The good thing is that we know they're there and that they'll both be strong. It's a good cast to have."