World champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and defending champion Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) came way from the 2018 E3 Harelbeke in Belgium with no regrets, despite critics doubting their form in a day dominated by Quick-Step Floors.
Both stars looked off their best at times. Sagan, after trying to attack and pull back eventual winner Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors), fell behind on the Paterberg. Van Avermaet, despite finishing third, fought at times to live up to his 'Golden Greg' nickname.
"The problem was I did a lot of efforts in the middle of the race, and then a big group came back to us," Van Avermaet said. "It was hard for me to reset my legs a little bit. I tried to find a little bit of rest, but it was hard to close."
With an eye on the Tour of Flanders next Sunday, he added: "I was super happy with my legs, super happy with my race. I put a lot of effort in, and it was a good training for me. And in the end, I am also pretty happy with my result. I'm on the podium."
Quick-Step Floors's Yves Lampaert and Terpstra rode clear on the Taaienberg and left the other stars like Van Avermaet, Sagan, Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) and Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First-Drapac) struggling to regain. And when they made some ground, another Quick-Step rider was marking them.
"You can say a lot of things, but I think the smartest thing is to say Terpstra deserved the win," added Van Avermaet. He was one of the strongest guys."
"Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. That's life," Sagan explained.
"No, I don't think [it was a bad day]. I crashed once, but nothing heavy. Also, I was lucky.
"It was a hard race for me, I didn't feel very well. What happened? In the end, I was a little bit [flat]. It was hard to stay at the front. Sunday will be better I think."
Sagan tried to attack, but Quick-Step's Philippe Gilbert marked him. Later, Sagan disappeared on the Paterberg climb that features so heavily in Flanders next Sunday.
From the outside, the outcome for the star riders ahead of Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday and of course, Flanders next Sunday looked as grey as the day in East Flanders.
"Quick-Step was again dominating incredibly today," Trek-Segafredo sports director, Dirk Demol said. "They are all good riders. The line-up is seven good riders, even the 'domestiques' are able to ride the final.
"The crash [mid-way in the race] played in their favour, but you can't say that's not fair because they were pulling already. Of course, they are not going to slow down. They were strong and the others weren't strong enough.
"We've seen in the past weeks that Greg is good, he's third today, but I don' believe that he's on his level of last year. The same for Sagan."
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