Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was unable to outpower Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) in the finale of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but he proved himself to be the most consistently well-placed rider in the Ardennes week of 2014 with his fourth place in Amstel, victory in Flèche Wallonne and runners-up spot in La Doyenne.
Third in Liège last year and twice victorious in the same race in 2006 and 2008, as well as second in 2007, Valverde's ability to turn in top three results in the hardest of the Ardennes Classics - he now has five podium finishes - stretches back across almost a decade of racing in Liège.
But despite his immense experience in the race and undoubted ability to be at the forefront of the action in cycling’s oldest Monument, the 34-year-old Spaniard was at a loss to explain why what has traditionally been such a hard race failed to see any major attacks go clear this time round.
"Why was there such a long wait for attacks to happen?" Valverde said, echoing one journalist’s question, "I'd like to know that myself. All I can say is it was very fast throughout, there were no big attacks on La Redoute and it was very difficult for one team to control. I was lucky I had such a good team with me."
"Gerrans won, but I'm happy, I'm pleased for myself and the team with the results I'm going to be taking home from this week. With a bit more luck, I'd have been on the podium of all three Ardennes Classics, so I can’t really complain."
Whilst Movistar kept up a high pace coming off the Roche aux Faucons and up until the foot of the San Nicolas, the final classified climb of the race, Valverde appeared to wait until after San Nicolas to attack. When he did so, at roughly three kilometres from the line, it was quickly chased down and he opted to rely on his fast turn of speed in the final sprint. Only Gerrans managed to outgun the Spaniard in the final dash for the line.
Asked what the organisers should do to try and create a more exciting race, rather than one with no major attacks, Valverde said "you can't make them harder. We've had 4,200 metres of [vertical] climbing today, the thing is we were all on the same level. I think the racing's been spectacular."
He had words of sympathy for Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) after the Irishman crashed in the final corner, saying "fortunately it didn't affect my sprint but it was a real pity for him, and if he was injured then I hope he has a speedy recovery."
Looking ahead after taking eight victories and 19 top ten places in 27 days of racing, Valverde is now aiming towards the Tour de France, although he says "barring [Michal] Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and [Vincenzo] Nibali (Astana), most of the other gc contenders weren't here so I couldn’t come to many conclusions about what their form will be like in July. Besides, the racing is very different here."
"Myself, I'll be taking a break, seeing the family, then going on to training at altitude before I do the Dauphine, Spanish Nationals and the Tour."
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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