After a brief break from racing, Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) heads into the Ardennes Classics, ‘on schedule’ and with the full support of his Sky teammates behind him.
The former world road race champion came out on top in Amstel Gold Race twelve months ago, and will spearhead Team Sky over the next week, with Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege on the horizon.
This is the Pole’s first Classics campaign in Team Sky colours after his winter transfer from Etixx-QuickStep but he has already brought home success in 2016 with a win in E3-Harelbeke.
“I’m on schedule and everything has gone well over the last two weeks. I’ve been training in Spain for the last few weeks and I’m ready to go for Sunday,” a relaxed Kwiatkowski told Cyclingnews on the eve of Amstel Gold Race.
Unlike many of his Ardennes rivals, Kwiatkowski has dabbled in the cobbled Classics, while riders like Simon Gerrans, Dan Martin and Alejandro Valverde – all three former Ardennes winners – have all shied away from the cobbles to focus on the next trio of races. Kwiatkowski, though, believes that his programme may play to his advantage.
“I did just two of the cobbled Classics, E3 and the Tour of Flanders. Honestly, I don’t think that it’s made a big difference to my form or my preparation. I didn’t feel anymore fatigue after Flanders than I should have and I’ve done a similar race programme before. I think that this approach might even be better than riding Pais Vasco. The conditions there were way too hard for preparing for the Ardennes.”
Team Sky has yet to win an Ardennes Classic but their winter capture of Kwiatkowski was a sign of their intent. The team are built around him but they also have talented understudies with Sergio Henao, Wout Poels and Lars Petter Nordhaug also in their Amstel Gold Race line-up.
“We’ve got a really good group of guys and I’m always confident when coming into races with the team. All the guys are around me and that give me confidence both before and during racing. That’s why I signed for Team Sky, so that I could have that level of support.
“It’s really important, to have more than one guy who can win the race though. If you look at Tinkoff they had Peter Sagan and it worked out for him in Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders but sometimes it can be harder when you just one guy to work for, as we saw with some teams in Roubaix. That’s our strength in some ways, because if you look back at a race like Milan-San Remo, I was able to attack on the Poggio but then we had Ben Swift for the sprint and he took second. We ride well as a team and we’ll try and do that over the next few races.”
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With De Brabantse Pijl - La Fleche Brabanconne acting as the only real one-day test leading into the Ardennes the form guide is in some ways difficult to predict ahead of Amstel. While Kwiatkowski points to his own form, he has also signalled out a number of key rivals, including riders from his former team and three-time winner of Amstel, Philippe Gilbert. The Belgian has had a less than ideal start to his Ardennes campaign after sustaining a fractured figure in a dispute with a motorist while training.
“Amstel suits me a bit better but I still need to find my way in Liege. I really like the final, the finish on the Cauberg. It’s a race that really suits me. It’s always a very nervous race and of course teams like Etixx, who have the numbers, are going to play a part. I watched the last 50km of De Brabantse Pijl - La Fleche Brabanconne and there were lots of teams attacking there. I expect a similar race on Sunday but still think it’s all going to come down to finish on the Cauberg. Gilbert, Petr Vakoc, Matthews and Gerrans, they’re all going to up there to compete.”