Tag Archives: Michal Kwiatkowski

The all-round talented Michal Kwiatkowski

“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!

Rodriguez wins his first mountain stage…Froome contains rivals…Geraint Thomas continues to impress

Stage 12: Lannemezan > Plateau de Beille, 195km

I cannot imagine going to bed last night with the knowledge of the profile that was facing me the next day. It resembled the lower jaw of a Sharks mouth but in reality was the vicious mountains of the Pyrenees: The Col de Portet d’Aspet (2nd cat.), the Col de la Core (1st cat.), the Port de Lers (1st cat.) and the Plateau de Beille (HC). So a series of climbs over 195km, steadily getting worse…just like the weather.

It started out blazing hot but by the top of the final climb which seen rain, hail, a thunder storm and temperatures plumet, it was anything but a hot summers day in the South of France. It was the ideal stage for the risk takers to try and put pressure on Chris Froome and some of his rivals needed to do just that; to attack him several climbs from the finish and on the descents, to weaken the Sky team around him and perhaps force him into a mistake or into the red zone a panic.

As things turned out he couldn’t have had it much smoother. Not a move in anger was made against Froome until the slopes of the vicious Plateau de Beille, though by then Froome still had team-mates Richie Porte and the extremely impressive Geraint Thomas alongside him.

Long before that however the stage winning moves had been made. A large group had gone clear and began to fracture and with 76km to go in the valley just after the col de la Core, Michal Kwiatkowski along with Sep Vanmarcke and Preidler went clear. On the Port de Lers, Preidler was dropped while behind a chasing group of Romain Bardet, Joaquim Rodriguez, Jakob Fuglsang along with a handful of others formed. The peloton itself was a long way behind and no longer a factor in the stage.

The weather conditions continued to get worse while Kwiatkowski and Vanmarcke pushed on. They crossed Port de Lers with a mere five second lead but carried a 1’50” led onto the final climb. With 13.5km to go the tenacious and gritty but heavier built Vanmarcke lost contact and Kwiatkowski was off along and after the stage win. It looked as though he might hang on but gradually he began to slow, his effort to get clear starting to take its toll and as the men behind began to close in, it began to look clear as to why they had let them go before.

Behind it was Rodriguez who looked the strongest and one by one he got rid of his chasing companions and set out in search of the World Champion. With 7.5km to go the catch was made and the balance of the stage swung in the direction of the Spaniard. Fuglsang and Bardet continued to chase but Rordiguez never looked like giving up his lead and took what was, surprisingly, his first ever mountain stage win at the Tour.

Further down the road on the same climb, the attacks of Froome were beginning. First Contador went, and Froome stuck to his steady rhythm and brought him back, then Nibali kicked only for Valverde to follow. Each were reeled in and finally Quintana made a move. Once more Froome measured the chase to within his limits, and soon they were altogether again. Even Froome himself kicked with 4.5km to go but once he realised the others were matching him, he eased off and accepted them all finishing on the same time at the top.

So no major shakeup to the general classification, at least not those hoping to still beat Froome in this Tour, though with each passing stage it’s hard to see that happening.

Result: Classement:
1. Rodriguez (KAT) in 5h 40′ 14″

2. Fuglsang (AST) +1′ 12″

3. Bardet (ALM) +1′ 49″


9. Valverde (MOV) +6′ 46″
10. Froome (SKY) +6′ 47″
11. Quintana (MOV)
13. Van Garderen (BMC)
14. Contador (TSC)
16. Nibali (AST) all s.t.

1. Froome (SKY) in 46h 50′ 32″

2. Van Garderen (BMC) +2′ 52″

3. Quintana (MOV) +3′ 09″

4. Valverde (MOV) +3′ 58″

5. Thomas (SKY) +4′ 03″

6. Contador (TSC) +4′ 04″


9. Nibali (AST) +7′ 47″

Kwiatkowski, cycling’s brightest young star, wins World Championship

These kind of courses with so much on the line seem to cater towards the same tactic: Hold off until that short, sharp, final climb near the finish and do the damage there. The early break attempts go clear but get washed up just in time for the decisive move to be made. It reminded me so much of the race in Montreal just a few weeks ago, a race that Simon Gerrans won, and who this time had to settle for second behind Michal Kwiatkowski who made the kind of move Peter Sagan made in Montreal the year before.

What a talent Kwiatkowski is. It’s amazing he isn’t marked in the same kind of way Sagan is. Nobody helping him when he attacks, everyone covering him and forcing him to chase everything down. 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.

The first 245 kilometres of this 254.8 kilometre race was all about wearing down legs and building fatigue. It didn’t make for a great spectacle on television but it ensured the final part of the race was the most dramatic. And with so many feeling they could win it, they hit the final climb with everything up for grabs.

Sprinters seen the climb as short enough that if they battled over they could yet win the dash for the line; classics men in the mould of Fabian Cancellara, Philippe Gilbert or Greg Van Averamet seen it as ideal to put in an almighty dig to distance the rest by enough to stay clear on the descent; and climbers seen it as the kind of climb that they could match those classic men and then distance them before the top. It was a World Championships made for everyone but the upshot was it was a World Championships in which we had to wait six hours for it all to kick off.

My tip to win had been Gerrans, and he came so close. His form in Canada at Quebec City and Montreal, were he won both, suggested he would be in contention and he didn’t disappoint. He missed Kwiatkowski getting away and then in the run down to the finish, he won the small group sprint. So near, yet so far for a rider in the form of his life. No wonder he said he felt like crying when he crossed the line.

Third was Alejandro Valverde, a man with superb consistency in the World Championships, but who has yet to win it. Six times he has finished on the podium and you can’t help but think of his palmarès had things gone just that little bit differently and he won them! For the Canadian contingent, all three (Ryan Anderson, Christian Meier and Michael Woods) all failed to finish, while of the nine British riders only two finished, with Ben Swift in 12th and Peter Kennaugh in 82nd.

Kwiatkowski may have gotten away at the foot of the climb in part because others, like Gerrans, were waiting for the likes of pre-race favorites, Sagan or Cancellara, to make their moves further up the climb. Nobody expected someone to go so soon or for their effort to be sustained, but given how he stayed clear over the top, down the other side and into the finish to win his first (and I’ll say not his last!) World Championship, you can bet Kwiatkowski will be marked tighter in the future…especially now that he’ll stand out in rainbow stripes.

That said, he’ll line up next week at Il Lombardia for his first race in the rainbow jersey and while many have indeed seen it as a jersey that stifles them given how recognisable you are in the bunch and everyone understanding your capiabilities, you get the sense Kwiatkowski will thrive in it.

Result:
1. Kwiatkowski (Pol) in
2. Gerrans (Aus) +1″
3. Valverde (Esp) s.t.
4. Breschel (Den) s.t.
5. Van Avermaet (Bel) s.t.
6. Gallopin (Fra) s.t.

Contador rolls back the years and shows his new found form

It was vintage Contador and I couldn’t help but watch and wonder just what Chris Froome was thinking from wherever it was he was rehabbing from his injury. This was the Contador of old, albeit it is still only March and it is only the Tirreno-Adriatico, but perhaps it’s a sign of what’s to come this season now that he’s had a full winters training, with no distractions, to put into his legs.

Just the day before, race leader Michal Kwiatkowski had battled to the point of exhaustion to keep his race lead over Contador as the Spaniard attacked on the final climb to the finish at Cittareale and left everyone else struggling to keep pace. Good old El Pistolero won that day after his team-mate Roman Kreuziger had blown the race open with a ferocious attack, riding the majority of the climb in the big-ring before finally burning out. Contador took over and grinding up behind him, 10 seconds later was Kwiatkowski, doing just enough to retain his overall lead over the two time Tour de France winner by 16 seconds.

It was all to play for on the final climbing stage before a flat stage and a short time-trial to finish the race. This was a stage that finished up a wall of a climb to Muro di Guardiagrele. Short, but so steep that it hit 30 percent at times and which one climber described as now knowing what it’s like to ride up the banking of a velodrome.

Knowing the potential power output of Kwiatkowski up a short, sharp climb as well as his ability against the clock on the final day, Contador must have known he couldn’t leave it to the Muro di Guardiagrele. He may not lose Kwiatkowski and if he did it may not be enough to give him the buffer he required going into the time trial. So the Spaniard did what we all love to see, he went early, took the race to his Polish rival and blew it wide open.

Contador attacked on the second to last climb, bridged across to the early break on the descent and into the valley below, and then, on that last stining climb, left those still with him behind and rode solo for the victory. He beat Simon Geschke into second place by only six seconds, but he beat a potential Tour de France rival in Niaro Quintana — second last year in France — by a whopping nine seconds shy of two full minutes. And the man that mattered in this race — Kwiatkowski? Contador put 6 minutes, 3 seconds into him.

The time trial was thus a formality. Won by Adriano Malori; Contador finishing 29th, 19 seconds behind Kwiatkowski who finished 7th, but winning his first Tirreno-Adriatico by 2 minutes, 5 seconds over Quintana. The young Pole, a star in the making who still had a fine race to go with other big wins already this season, had to settle for a 18th place overall.

The gauntlet has been thrown down. Froome will remain the favorite come July, but for the sake of wide open competition through the whole three weeks, I hope this is the kind of racing we can expect from El Pistolero.

Tirreno-Adriatico final overall

1. Contador in 2h28’45”
2. Quintana +2’05”
3. Kreuziger +2’14”
4. Peraud +2’39”
5. Moreno +2’54”

---

18. Kwiatkowski +5’38”
29. Sagan +11’11”
53. Wiggins +28’49”

Two of cycling’s biggest young stars duel at Strade Bianche

Ask almost any cycling fan who the biggest young talent is in the sport today and you’re likely to hear the name Peter Sagan. The young Slovak and his charasmatic style has entertained and thrilled us all over the last couple of years and big things are expected of him in 2013. But for all his talent there may be someone else of the same age who could go even further. He’s Polish national champion, Michal Kwiatkowski.

Each year it seems a young cyclist bursts onto the scene winning several years, showing a huge talent for success and as a result is designated the title of being the next Eddy Merckx. The pressure is put on and despite many going on to forge brilliant careers, nobody has lived up to such a moniker.

In 2013 at the age of just 23, Sagan won his second green jersey at the Tour de France to go with 21 victories on the year including wins at Gent–Wevelgem and Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal. His second place results at Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders only hinted at his bright future. Some even felt that on top of winning the big classics, he could one day win a Grand Tour. The pressure was heaped on. Now, that isn’t to say it has gotten to Sagan … quite the opposite for the he has done nothing but perform well in the majority of races he has been expect to shine in. It’s just that now it might be Kwiatkowski’s turn to come under that microscope of expectation. And on the weekend we got to see them both go head to head at the Strade Bianche.

A great situation for the fans, but it wasn’t the more widely known talent of Sagan who prevalied, but rather the Pole who burst clear of Sagan on the final climb after being the only one who could follow the Slovak’s attack with 21km to go. Looking at times far more comfortable than Sagan, he rode easily away when he made that move and when Sagan realised he couldn’t follow, he sat up to finish 19 seconds behind.

Sagan clearly wasn’t on his usual form, and admitted as much himself afterwards, and this is still early spring and it was only the Strade Biache, with all due respect, but on the other hand, this wasn’t the first signs of talent we have seen from the 23 year old Kwiatkowski either. Last year he broke through at none other than the Tour de France itself finishing 10th overall while getting in on the mix for the bunch sprints, hanging tough in the mountains, and finishing high up in the time-trials. If that didn’t completely sell his talent to those looking for potential winners in 2014 then this years superb start with an overall win at the Volta ao Algarve, as well as two stage wins (including an individual time-trial), and victory at Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana, before this result over Sagan at the weekend can only have helped.

Now he’s being talked up as the favorite to win next weeks Tirreno-Adriatico stage race in which a number of Grand Tour favorites will be on hand. And I’m even going to go out on a limb and tip him for one of the Monument classics this year.

One thing that will see the hype-o-metre going into overdrive in Kwiatkowski’s case is that 10th place finish in last years Tour (second in the young rider competition) and his featuring near the front in the mountains. Unlike Sagan, Kwiatkowski is already built for success in Grand Tours and how long before another couple of big results leads to some speculating when and not if he will one day win a Giro, Tour or Vuelta?

The big wonder is whether he can win classics and also win a Grand Tour or whether he will face the cross-roads like so many before him to decide what kind of specialist he will become.

It’s not fun tempering expectations, and then again, with this kind of a start to a season to go with last years Tour, why should we. Let’s not go throwing out the ‘Next Eddy Merckx’ title though. Let’s enjoy watching a young talent like Kawiatkowski’s — and Sagan’s for that matter, which in itself is still very much on for big wins in 2014 — and see where they takes us.

Cycling is in good hands if these two are the ones setting the standard of what’s to come. Strade Bianche was, perhaps, a glimpse into the future.

Eight things to look forward to in 2014 as well as a few predictions

There is so much to look forward to in the upcoming 2014 professional cycling road season, as there is every year and if I asked a dozen people for things that they’re looking out for the most I’d no doubt get a dozen different answers, so take of this what you will. These are eight things that jump out at me as things worth watching for as the Grand Tours make their starts in the UK, as British cycling tries to continue its dominance, and as the World Hour record comes back to prominence. I’ll also lay down a few predictions; though don’t be running to your bookie with them. Predicting cycling results on the day of a race is hard enough never mind months in advance. One thing I can guarantee however is that the season will be full of good action, beautiful scenery, and a few records here or there.

Giro in Belfast; Tour in Yorkshire

It’s a rare treat for any Grand Tour to start in the UK, indeed only the Tour de France has done that before, but for two to do it in the one year is almost as rare as the idea that back-to-back British winners of the Tour de France might have seemed a few years ago. The last time a Grand Tour visited the island of Ireland was in 1998 when that years ill fated Tour de France arrived in Dublin. Remembered for the ‘Festina Affair’ that year the Giro organisors will be hoping for none of the same when their big event arrives on that island with the start in Belfast. It’s a huge occasion for a city like Belfast and it should look fantastic. Likewise with the Tour starting in Yorkshire. Mark Cavendish seen last year’s mass start on Corsica as a big chance to pull on the Yellow jersey by winning that first stage sprint, but it didn’t go to plan. And maybe for the best because what better way to pull on his first Yellow jersey than on home turf?

Back to Back for Froome?

Chris Froome will be the favorite for the 2014 Tour. He won it in style last year and so long as his preparation matches what he did twelve months before and he can avoid any injuries there’s nobody I can see beating him. It could be tougher this time however with Vincenzo Nibali returning to the race and the most likely opponent to cause the Kenyan born, South African educated, British license holding Froome some trouble. There’s no such thing as a foregone conclusion in the Tour, but Froome retaining his title is about as close as it comes to one.

Boonen back

In 2012 Tom Boonen was the King of the classics. He won Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem, but injuries derailed his defense of those in 2013 and he watched from the sidelines as Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan took up the dominance of the spring races. Fighting fit again Boonen will be out to recapture his crown and that only serves us well. Seeing him, Cancellara and Sagan, among others, go head to head this spring will make for fantastic viewing. My money is on each of them winning at least one of the spring classics.

The continued rise of Rui Costa

At 27 years of age, Rui Costa is coming into his prime years as a cyclist and there’s enough there to suggest that it could be prime years full of big race wins. Back in 2011 he showed his ability as a big time racer by winning a stage of that year’s Tour de France and in 2012 he took the overall at the Tour of Switzerland. He repeated there last year and added to that result with two stage wins in Le Tour on the difficult stages of 16 and 19 before winning the World Road Race Championships in conditions even worse than those that faced him in one of his two Tour stages. Some think he even has Grand Tour potential in him and after moving to Lampre this winter to become a team-leader in his own right we’ll truly see how far his talents can go. At the very least this will remain a man who should feature highly in the spring classics and again for stages in the Tour de France as he looks to retain that rainbow jersey at the end of the 2014 season.

Classic expectations for Sagan

No doubt about it, Peter Sagan had a superb season in 2013. Victories at the Gent-Wevelgem and the Cycliste de Montréal to go with multiple stage wins at the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Tour of Alberta, Tour of California, Tour of Oman, Tour de Suisse and Tirreno-Adriatico, not to mention his Green jersey victory at the Tour de France, highlighted that. But to some there was too many second places at the classics and therefore too many missed opportunities. He was second at Milan-San Remo when those around him out foxed him and then he was beaten into second by his new spring-rival, Cancellara at the Tour of Flanders. It’s hard to imagine pressure being on Sagan to do even better than in 2013 and remember he’s still only 23 (24 later this month), but then, that age is a reason why we could well see better from him in 2014 and if he’s to truely prove to the world that he is going to be one of the greats then he might well need a win or two in one of the Monument classics this year.

The breakout of Michal Kwiatkowski

Michal Kwiatkowski broke through into the big time last season and he’ll be looking to show the world that Sagan isn’t the only young talent capable of big wins and 2014 will be a year for him to prove it. And unlike Sagan, Kwiatkoswki appears to have the ability to climb in the higher mountains and compete at the sharp end of Grand Tours as well as time-trial and sprint. He didn’t have any big victories to his name last year but he was in the mix at a number of races and finished 11th overall at the Tour de France holding the White jersey for best young rider between stages 2-7 and 11-14 before falling short of phenom climbing sensation Nairo Quintana. And it was in the Tour that his talents truly began to shine. He was right near the front on several early race sprint stages, he was 5th and 7th in the respective individual time trials and never far off the pace in the high mountains fading only towards the final days of the Tour. He’ll be one to watch in 2014.

What will Wiggins do?

Sir Bradley Wiggins had the world at his feet as the 2012 season came to an end. He had won the Tour becoming the first British cyclist to do so and then he won a Gold Medal in the individual time-trial at the London Olympics. It was a supreme season and many wondered how he could top it. Well … he couldn’t. An off season rift with Chris Froome over the leadership of the team boiled over into the early season with both of them racing apart. Wiggins went to the Giro d’Italia for his Tour prep, but as we all know in this day and age if you try to win the Giro you probably aren’t going to then win the Tour and Wiggins was out to try and win the Giro. But he couldn’t do that either. A sudden fear of descending struck him followed soon after by an illness and before the racing had even got serious, he was gone. An injury followed and Wiggins was ruled out of even competing in the Tour leaving his season in tatters. He won the Tour of Britain but aside from that and the Worlds, in which he also failed to finish, little has been seen of him. Has he finally succumbed to working for Froome at the 2014 Tour as some have suggested, or is he out for one last throw of the dice? A penultimate stage time-trial at the Tour might allow for it, but chances are Wiggins will help where he can in the Tour before turning his attention back towards the track. I’d love to see him take a run at a spring classic, but who knows. And therein lays one of the great mysteries of the upcoming season: What will Wiggins do?

Cancellara world hour

This one has me the most excited of all. The World Hour is a special record in cycling history, though the way so few have tried to break it of late you would be forgiven for thinking the cyclists themselves didn’t think so. Then again, that is a tribute to its difficulty that so few have felt able to go for it. But that looks set to change this year as big Fabian Cancellara gets set to take a run at the record. Currently held by the relatively unknown, Ondrej Sosenka (49.7 km), if anyone can beat it, it’s probably Fabian. Prior to Sosenka taking it in 2005 it was held by Chris Boardman who had taken it under conventional methods (standard bike as used by Eddy Merckx when he set a record in 1972 (49.431 km) that stood for 28 years) in 2000. Before that Boardman had got into a head-to-head with Graeme Obree on superman like bikes that seen the top names of the era — Miguel Indurain and Tony Rominger — all come out to have a crack at it. Cancellara taking on the record might well perk up the interests of another time-trial specialist, Tony Martin and don’t forever rule out someone like Wiggins having a try. And with that the World Hour rivalry might yet be born again.

Predictions

Milan-San Remo (23 March): Peter Sagan
Tour of Flanders (6 April): Tom Boonen
Paris-Roubaix (13 April): Peter Sagan
Liège–Bastogne–Liège (27 April): Rui Costa
Giro d’Italia (9 May – 1 June): Nairo Quintana
Tour de France (5-27 July): Chris Froome
Vuelta a Espana (23 August – 14 September): Alberto Contador
Giro di Lombardia (5 October): Philippe Gilbert
World Road Championships, Ponferrada, Spain (28 September): Peter Sagan