Spain's Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) was one of the favourites for Flèche Wallonne but finished a somewhat anonymous eighth, 11 seconds behind Cadel Evans (BMC).
The Caisse d'Epargne leader missed last Sunday's Amstel Gold Race and had to drive all the way from Spain to Belgium on Monday, after the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland had paralysed European air traffic.
"It wasn't good, but not bad either," Valverde wrote on his personal website post-race. "I felt a bit strange in the beginning of the race. I don't have an explanation for it but I won't blame our long car trip for it, as I have recovered well from it."
"It got better as the hours passed," he continued, recalling the unfolding of the race. "In the last climb, I felt much better, but not enough to go for the win. I passed riders one by one and I think that with a little more confidence in myself I could have fought for fourth place."
"For sure, I lacked a bit of rhythm in my legs, which I could have gained at Amstel Gold Race. But that's just how things are and I have to concentrate on Liège now, where I hope to be in front and give the very best of myself."
Cunego and Nibali suffer on the Mur
Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini) and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Doimo) both suffered on the final climb of the Mur de Huy, meaning the Italians finished out of the top three.
Cunego refused to speak to Italian television immediately after the finish of Flèche Wallonne. The 'Little Prince' of Italian cycling was angry at missing out on victory yet again and was not satisfied with fifth place behind Cadel Evans (BMC), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Alberto Contador (Astana) and Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
"The team rode really well. We had Loosli in the break, Righi in the second move and all the others with me. We decided that to try and win, we'd have to be prepared to lose and so we waited for the Mur. It was the right tactic because at the start of the climb I was well placed, about fifth or sixth on Evans' wheel. Unfortunately I lost five or six metres and never got them back."
"Fifth isn't bad and proves I'm on form but for one reason or another, either the stomach bug I had or a crash, there is always something that gets in the way of victory. And I always want to win."
Liquigas-Doimo tried a different strategy to Lampre-Farnese Vini, and worked to get riders in the attacks before the final assault of the Mur de Huy. Roman Kreuziger got in the move with Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank) after the second climb of the Mur. They were caught but Vincenzo Nibali was well placed on the foot of the Mur, on Alberto Contador's wheel. However the young Italian faded in sight of the line.
"We tried to move before the final climb. Kreuziger's move looked good but not everybody was working and behind, despite me and Andy Schleck trying to block, they were pretty organized," Nibali told Gazzetta dello Sport.
"Just before the Mur I got Contador's wheel but that wasn't enough. With 200 metres to go I cracked and could only look at the metre of road in front of me I was suffering so much. I was so paid that I thought Contador had won it."
"It was a pity but there's still Liege on Sunday. That's a good chance for us."