Just as the outstanding exponent of riding on the cobbles, Tom Boonen, salvaged his spring at the last attempt with victory at Paris-Roubaix, so Alejandro Valverde rescued a nearly-but-not-quite campaign with a superb win at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
It was starting to look as if the Spaniard was going to leave the Ardennes empty-handed, as he did last year. And, considering two years ago he won both Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, anything less than one victory is seen as a disappointment.
So, how did our ten top tips get on? Well, we picked eight of the top ten ? missing out only on Andy Schleck and Vincenzo Nibali, who escaped under our radar despite a cracking ride at the Giro del Trentino, which he won.
Read on to find out why Davide Rebellin is the undisputed King of the Ardennes, despite failing to win one of the races on offer?
|1 Damiano Cunego|
30th at 1-39
We said: The hot favourite now, after his Amstel win and third on Wednesday. Hasn?t been outside the top ten in his three previous rides here and he?s in better form this week than ever before.
How he did: Cramped up on the last climb and watched the race go away from him. Those ?Little Prince Crowned King? headlines will, thankfully, have to wait. Frankly, we?re starting to think that being tipped the number one favourite by CW is a curse?
|2 Cadel Evans|
7th at 40sec
We said: Showed he?s strong and, to be fair, the very steep Mur de Huy is not quite his forté. Here, he will fit right in and could be dangerous. He certainly knows how to follow a move!
How he did: Didn?t quite live up to the star billing we?d bestowed on him. Missed the big move that came with 18 kilometres to go and had to chase, stuffing up his chances.
|3 Alejandro Valverde|
We said: Has been quiet this week but will be acutely aware he needs a big result.
How he did: It all slots into place now. We make him the man to beat at Amstel Gold and Flèche Wallonne and he keeps his head below the parapet. Our confidence in him dropped but clearly he?d been waiting for La Doyenne all along.
|4 Davide Rebellin|
2nd in same time
We said: Good enough to be nailed on for the top ten. Good enough to win? We?re not convinced. His brain will get him into the right moves but there are faster, younger legs to contend with.
How he did: Another excellent ride, another race where he was in exactly the right place every time. But did he really have a chance to match the Valverde sprint? Not a hope.
|5 Kim Kirchen|
12th at 1-03
We said: Straight after winning Flèche Wallonne, Kirchen played down talk of doing the double in Liège. It?s a longer, more difficult race, he reasoned. He?s not wrong but he was being a little disingenuous about his own abilities. We can?t see him winning it, but he?ll be right there to the end.
How he did: Pretty much anonymous. Always in the front group until the final moves went but, after Wednesday it?s hardly surprising he let it go.
|6 Frank Schleck|
3rd in same time
We said: We?re assuming Schleck was taking it easy, saving his legs for Liège, when he rolled round Flèche Wallonne and finished minutes down. Was good at Amstel Gold but needs to be super good here. He hasn?t shown that yet this year.
How he did: The most we?ve seen from him this spring campaign but, despite having a team-mate and brother in the final quartet, they still managed to finish third and fourth.
|7 Paolo Bettini|
9th at 1-03
We said: Surely can?t be a major factor here, given the racing he?s had?
How he did: Most people would be doing cartwheels with a top ten finish but Bettini has achieved so much more. The odds were stacked against him, after he cracked a rib at the Tour of the Basque Country. But it?s a testimony to his class and experience that he got round in ninth place after so many setbacks.
|8 Thomas Dekker|
6th at 40sec
We said: There?s a glass ceiling above Dekker?s head, preventing him cracking into the top three. It?ll be the same story here, at best.
How he did: Sixth ? only Pfannberger stood between Dekker and a trio of top five places this week. Kind of sums the Rabobank rider up.
|9 Joaquin Rodriguez|
8th at 48sec
We said: Of all the team?s Second-In-Command, Caisse d?Epargne?s is the best. CSC have Kroon, Rabobank have Gesink, Gerolsteiner have Schumacher but none is going to win here. Rodriguez will back up Valverde but could even win it himself.
How he did: Was the perfect team-mate for Valverde. A fine week?s work for the Spanish champion.
|10 Christian Pfannberger|
5th at 40sec
We said: Form is a wonderful thing. Sixth at Amstel Gold put him on the radar, another great ride at Flèche Wallonne means we can?t ignore him any longer. If he does another top ten ride here, the big teams will be waving the chequebooks in his direction.
How he did: The revelation of the week, by a country mile. If last Sunday it was a case of ?Christian Who? ? Oh, he?s Austrian champion? by this week no one could ignore him. He?s not a kid ? in fact he?s 28 ? but he could make a splash in the Tour if selected by Barloworld.
|KING OF THE ARDENNES|
Until the 1960s, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège used to be run on consecutive days and a prize was awarded to the best performer overall.
Inspired by that tradition, CW has calculated the best performers across the week?s three Ardennes Classics.
And, considering he placed fourth, sixth and second, it?s no surprise Davide Rebellin tops our general classification ? based on time ? and the points competition, making him the undisputed King of the Ardennes.
CW?S ARDENNES WEEK GENERAL CLASSIFICATION
Cumulative times for the riders who completed all three races ? Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
1. Davide Rebellin (Italy) Gerolsteiner in 17hrs 15mins 06sec
2. Alejandro Valverde (Spain) Caisse d?Epargne at 30sec
3. Thomas Dekker (Netherlands) Rabobank at 44sec
4. Christian Pfannberger (Austria) Barloworld at 52sec
5. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spain) Caisse d?Epargne at 1-17
6. Damiano Cunego (Italy) Lampre at 1-37
7. Kim Kirchen (Luxembourg) CSC at 1-59
8. Robert Gesink (Netherlands) Rabobank at 2-20
9. Benoit Vaugrenard (France) Française des Jeux at 2-22
10. Fabian Wegmann (Germany) Gerolsteiner at 2-37
CW?S ARDENNES WEEK POINTS COMPETITION
If points were allocated to the top 25 riders in each race, just like on the flat stages of the Tour de France
1. Davide Rebellin (Italy) Gerolsteiner 74pts
2. Alejandro Valverde (Spain) Caisse d?Epargne 66pts
3. Thomas Dekker (Netherlands) Rabobank 64pts
4. Damiano Cunego (Italy) Lampre 61pts
5. Christian Pfannberger (Austria) Barloworld 59pts
6. Frank Schleck (Luxembourg) CSC 56pts
7. Kim Kirchen (Luxembourg) High Road 55pts
8. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spain) Caisse d?Epargne 54pts
9. Cadel Evans (Australia) Silence-Lotto 49pts
10. Robert Gesink (Netherlands) Rabobank 42pts
Valverde takes Liège-Bastogne-Liège for a second time