“What a talent Kwiatkowski is. Younger than Sagan by several months, the Polish phenom has proven himself capable in single day races as well as Grand Tours and must surely be seen as the finest young talent in the sport right now.”
I wrote that paragraph in the days after Michal Kwiatkowski’s World Championship victory back in September 2014. His mega-talent was evident then and he’s done little to disappoint since. A consistent performer across an entire season, Kwiatkowski has shown an ability to finish high up in Grand Tours, week long stage races, hilly classics in the Ardennes, and cobbled classics in Flanders.
This past winter Kwiatkowski moved to Team Sky and many wondered what this would mean for his rounded ability under the strict stewardship of the Sky machine, but he hasn’t disappointed. High placings in early season Spanish races, three top 10s at the Tirreno-Adriatico, a superb attack at Milan-San Remo, and then over the Easter long weekend a superb victory on the cobbled roads of Flanders in the E3 Harelbeke in a two-up sprint against the much hyped Peter Sagan. The pair got clear on a climb with 30km left, worked together to distance a pack of select favourites and contested a sprint in which Kwiatkowski comfortably won when he caught Sagan napping in the lead-out position.
But that hype of which I speak of that surrounds Sagan and which seen him as the outright favourite in their two-up sprint before it began, deserves all the hype he gets. He puts himself in a position to win almost every time he races a bicycle and he is, of course, the reigning World Champion, but when you look at how easily Kwiatkowski beat him on Saturday, you cannot help but wonder why the Pole isn’t himself considered the most complete rider in the sport?
Consider it: How many riders will enter the Tour of Flanders next week and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the Ardennes next month with designs on winning them both, then later look with GC ambitions to week long stage races and later go to the Tour de France in service of Chris Froome in the high mountains with the potential of a high placing overall?
I’ll tell you: None.
To be fair to Sagan, either man deserves the honour of the most complete rider. Sagan’s palmares tells you all you need to know and as far as top placings go, is all but unmatched in the sport today. He featured in the top 5 in about half the stages in last years Tour de France, and he easily won the Green jersey again; he finished last year winning the World Championship, and this season had finished 2nd at the Omloop and E3 with a 4th at the Strade Bianche before getting back to winning ways in Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem, a race from which Kwiatkowski was absent. That’s his second victory in GW to go with a previous cobbled classic win at E3 in 2014.
But look too at Kwiatkowski, the man who supposedly shocked the odds in that two-up sprint on Friday: He won Strade Bianche in 2014 and also took a World Championship the same year; he was also 3rd in Fleche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège that season and 1st in the Amstel Gold the following year. He has previously finished 2nd overall at Paris-Nice and 4th at Tirreno Adriatico, and he has even placed 11th overall in the Tour de France.
At the age of 25, Kwiatkowski has shown his huge versatility as a rider and the E3 win on the cobbles only affirmed how far that versatility stretches.
Of course, like Sagan, neither man has a Monument classic to his name and both now will be hoping to set that straight next weekend. Beyond that Sagan will go for Paris-Roubaix while Kwiatkowski, who will miss the Hell of the North, will make a run at the hillier Liège–Bastogne–Liège in the Ardennes.
Rider of the week
Some might be surprised to hear that I haven’t gone with Peter Sagan after his Gent-Wevelgem win and 2nd place at E3, nor the E3 winner Michal Kwiatkowski, who I have just spent several paragraphs above in praise of, but rather with Thibaut Pinot. The Frenchman won the overall at the three stage Criterium International and did so by winning the time-trial and the mountain stages in dominant fashion. No the Critermium International didn’t have the depth of field that the two classic races had, but nor has Pinot been considered much of a man against the clock before this season. The young Frenchman is showing excellent early season form. Cue the French hyperbole machine!