Annemiek van Vleuten required a harder race if she was to win the Tour of Flanders for a record third time, the Dutchwoman instead sprinting to second behind victor Lotte Kopecky.
The 39-year-old went into the race as defending champion and favourite, especially given that already this spring she has won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and was second at Strade Bianche.
But despite the Movistar rider attacking multiple times on the famous cobbled climbs, Van Vleuten failed to shake Kopecky off her wheel, eventually going to the finish line with the Belgian and her SD Worx teammate Chantal Van den Broek-Blaak.
Van Vleuten knew that out-sprinting Kopecky would be a tough ask, but she was more disappointed with how the race was ridden by other teams than failing to overcome 26-year-old Kopecky.
"You know that if you go to the finish line with Lotte Kopecky, a super-fast sprinter, it's going to be hard," Van Vleuten said. "After the Paterberg, I knew my chances, my options, were running out.
"For me, the race in the middle part was not raced as hard. We arrived to the Koppenberg too big a group.
"To drop a ride like Kopecky on the Paterberg, I needed a harder race, especially because the climbs here are super-short. I needed a super-hard race to be able to drop a rider like Lotte Kopecky.
"Then people [could] say, 'why are you not doing that?' But I cannot do everything. I had hoped that other teams wanted to make the race hard, to drop people like Elisa Balsamo, for example. Maybe Trek I expected a bit more from them to also make the race harder."
Nevertheless, Van Vleuten was not too dejected with being second best, as she now turns her focus to the Ardennes where she will aim to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège for a second time and La Flèche Wallonne.
"I'm proud of it," she said. "To be in the mix again, to always be fighting for the win in this race is not easy. There's also a lot of stress to always be in the front, and I think we nailed it as a team. I am super-proud of my team.
"I cannot blame myself for something. It's not like when I go back and watch the race tonight I will say that I lost it somewhere.
"The further we get to Liège and Flèche, the more it's in my favour."
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