Now with seven world championship podium finishes between them, Spaniards Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde were their country's biggest hope for the rainbow jersey, but despite executing their pre-race plan perfectly, the pair still fell short in Florence on Sunday, taking second and third to Portugal's Rui Costa.
It was a devastating result for the 34-year-old Rodriguez, who is watching his opportunities to wear the rainbow bands slip away year by year. This edition's circuit with its punchy climb at 5km to go was tailor-made for his physical abilities, and he was reduced to tears as the Portuguese anthem played for Costa.
"We can run through a million scenarios, but the only thing that counts is if you win, and I didn't win today," a dejected Rodriguez said.
"Alejandro and I both wanted to win. We already have big wins in our palmares but are missing the world championships. We are missing something, maybe luck, but it's been impossible to win.”
When Rodriguez put in his bid in the finale, he had a strong tactical advantage: behind, Valverde sitting on the wheel of Vincenzo Nibali, and both Valverde and his trade teammate Costa were happy to leave the Italian chase alone.
“I knew I had to take some risks in the finale. Vincenzo is very good on the descents, but he already crashed, so maybe he was nervous,” Rodriguez said. “I could see that he was not the same Nibali we typically see on the descents. I don't like to take advantage on the descents, but the race was unfolding like this, and with the wet roads, I could open a gap.”
However, when Costa came across in the final 2km, Rodriguez had spent too much and could not outwit or out-power the young Portuguese rider. "I was trying to make him nervous, but it was impossible. He has too much self confidence. I tried to get him in front of me, but he was very sure of himself and he knows me too well, so it was impossible to win."
Valverde also claimed he could do no more in the finale: when grilled about letting go of the wheel of his trade teammate, Valverde stated that Costa attacked in a dangerous curve, and he couldn't catch him back when the road straightened out.
"Nibali tried to follow him, but he stopped, and I couldn't catch Costa in the final kilometer. After 270km the legs weren't very well, and I could do no more," Valverde said. "I knew Rui Costa was a very dangerous rider."
The Spaniards have not won a world championship since Oscar Freire's third in 2004, but Rodriguez thinks that next year's race in Pontferrada, Spain could turn around that record.
“We were so close to the win in the past years. The real thing is if we can win our world championship next year in Spain. It was a good opportunity this year, but we will enjoy a very good moment for cycling in Spain."