Kwiatkowski: I want to be part of a Tour de France-winning team

Polish rider refuses to specialise after strongest spring of his career

Victories in Milan-Sanremo and Strade Bianche, along with podium spots in Amstel Gold Race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, mark arguably the most consistent spring of Michal Kwiatkowski's career.

Having successfully led Team Sky's classics outfit, the former world champion is now eyeing the Tour de France. After a short period of rest at the beginning of May, he has already resumed preparations with a two-week altitude camp, and will line up alongside Chris Froome at the Criterium du Dauphine.

During the French race Kwiatkowski will be putting the finishing touches to his shape ahead of the Grande Boucle, where he hopes to support the Briton's bid to win a fourth maillot jaune.

This year the Polish rider has bounced back after a difficult 2016 season in which success – victory in E3 Harelbeke, as well as great team performances in the Olympic Games and Vuelta a Espana – was interspersed with illnesses and a general lack of consistency after too strong a start to the season.

In 2017 he was motivated to live up to the expectations. A gradual build-up towards spring one-day races paid dividends as the 26-year-old took a confidence-boosting victory at Strade Bianche. Two weeks later, after clocking some more kilometres at Tirreno-Adriatico, he was up against Peter Sagan and Julian Alaphilippe in the Milan-San Remo finale, edging the world champion on the line and taking his first Monument win.

"It's hard to say whether it was my best spring… definitely the most consistent," he told Cyclingnews two days after Liege-Bastogne-Liege. "This makes me quite happy. I'd be equally proud if I didn't win but was still among the best and fought for victories. I wanted to start the season slower, control my shape and motivation and peak during Ardennes week. It worked out."

Having brought Team Sky its second Monument win, Kwiatkowski spent a week at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, polishing his form ahead of the Ardennes week. Together with Sergio Henao, the Pole led the British team, taking 2nd in Amstel Gold Race, 7th in La Fleche Wallonne and 3rd in Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Although yearning for victories, he was largely satisfied with the results.

"Everything went according to plan in terms of preparation, and that was the key – I wanted to feel good throughout this period. I was lucky in terms of health and crashes – I only went down once, during [Volta a la Comunitat] Valenciana."

 

Tour ambitions

Kwiatkowski concluded his spring racing in Liege and headed to Poland for a short period of rest. This started with a long media day and later promoting and participating in an amateur race in Torun – an event he founded three years ago.

"I usually divide the season into three parts. Part one is done, now onwards to Tour de France. I don't have much time and I know it. Fortunately I'm not too tired from the first part of the year, I don't need to go on holidays. A few days home will be enough," he explained.

The 26-year-old is hoping to come back to the Tour de France this year, having missed out on selection last year due to questionable form and a larynx infection suffered in June. At the start line in Dusseldorf, he wants to support Chris Froome in his bid to win a fourth Tour de France.

"If everything goes as planned and I don't have any troubles during the preparation period, I believe I'm on the right track to be at the start by Chris' side. That's the plan. I would like to be a part of the team that wins Tour de France. And I believe Chris is capable of pulling it off," Kwiatkowski declared.

He was also quick to shrug off questions about any personal goals in July.

"There is no point in talking about my ambitions. Fighting for the yellow jersey costs a lot. As we know, Chris doesn't take the lead on the penultimate or final day, so the whole race is an exhausting battle," he said.

Kwiatkowski has already completed a two-week altitude camp, joining other Team Sky riders – Chris Froome, Wout Poels, Mikel Nieve and Christian Knees – at Teide in the second half of May. His next – and likely the only – race ahead of the Tour will be the Criterium du Dauphine, starting on Sunday.

Never specialize

The Tour has traditionally been Kwiatkowski's goal, no matter what his spring choices were. His focus on the world's biggest event has, at times, raised questions whether he is capable of performing well over the course of three weeks and fighting for one of the top spots himself. 

Having finished 11th on his debut in 2013, Kwiatkowski has, on multiple occasions, demonstrated the capability to contest stage races, with podium performances in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, Tour of Poland, Tour of Britain and Volta ao Algarve. Yet, he never again had a successful run in a Grand Tour.

On the other hand, winning World Championships and classics such as Amstel Gold Race and Strade Bianche, combined with a love for cobbles and a long-time focus on time trialling, has made him one of the most versatile riders of the generation. While at the Quick-Step team, at an early stage of his career, the lack of specialization might have been regarded as testing the limits, with time questions of the type of rider he wants to be resurfaced.

Kwiatkowski, who at times responded differently to these calls, hinted that he may never choose one specialty, suggesting that his program can be adjusted yearly.

"Many people have told me to decide, specialize, and pick something, but I'm not sure if that's the way. I take decisions about my calendar every year, because I cannot combine all the races I like. I made choices this year, too," he said, admitting that he misses racing on the cobbles.

The future

Kwiatkowski's focus in the final part of the year will be the World Championships in Bergen. However, with his contract running until the end of the 2017 season, his long-term future is already a subject of discussion, especially given the atmosphere around Team Sky. 

The British outfit has lately faced scrutiny over its ethical stance and conduct during the rise to prominence with sir Bradley Wiggins. UK Anti-Doping is currently investigating alleged abuse of TUEs and painkillers while a parliamentary inquiry exposed a level of negligence and substantial lack of medical documentation in the so-called 'jiffy bag' case relating to 2011.

The Polish rider, who joined Sky in 2016, revealed little about his future, only implying his wish to continue his career on the British team.

"My contract is until the end of the year. I feel good on the team I'm with. Last year, the support they gave me... I want to repeat it – thank you. There aren't many teams who would do this. Some would already have crossed me, wouldn't have offered help. I had their support, they believed in me, they believed that I could be their leader in big races and win. That meant a lot to me."

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