Still only 24 years of age, Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep) is marking himself down as not only one of the strongest in the peloton but one of the most tactically adept too. On the Saturday before the Amstel Gold Race, Kwiatkowski told journalists that he had learned from his mistakes of last year when he hitched his cart to the wrong BMC rider on the Cauberg. He showed that to be true as he bided his time before claiming an experienced win over two riders with proven track records in the sprint.
"Experience is really important in such races especially and you cannot try doing the same effort on the Cauberg in training because you need to ride 250 kilometres at that speed to learn how to manage your acceleration on the climb," Kwiatkowski said in the post-race press conference.
BMC used a similar tactic to last year, sending a rider up the road before Philippe Gilbert launched his move. Initially only Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) was able to go with the Belgian, with Kwiatkowski hovering about 10 metres behind before they regrouped over the top.
"I was not really directly on Gilbert’s wheel, I was more behind him compared to last year when I launched my effort on the Cauberg and I paid for it on the top. It was a better idea not to be excited and have some energy left for the sprint so I could be fresher for the last metres."
While he won the prologue of Paris-Nice, this is Kwiatkowski’s first victory in the discipline that he is world champion in. Added to that, Kwiatkowski is only the fourth rider to take victory at Amstel Gold during their reign in the rainbow stripes, with Eddy Merckx, Jan Raas and Bernard Hinault the others to have accomplished it. As he sat in the press tent that flanks the finish straight the realisation of what he had done was slowly sinking in.
"I cannot describe my emotions, it’s really great and I really want to enjoy it," he said. "I was really pushing for it from the start of the season. I was close in Paris-Nice and in Algarve and the classics. It’s not an easy thing to do and it’s an amazing day to win a classic that I was aiming for."
For the second year running the crucial move was made on the Cauberg, although it played out very differently in the end with riders wise to the Gilbert attack this time around. However, there were a flurry of late attacks from the start of the final lap, one of which included his teammate Tony Martin, and Kwiatkowski believes that it had the potential to go the distance.
"Everyone is playing a little but I think that was dangerous for everyone having Tony Martin and Vincenzo Nibali in a breakaway that could have been successful," he explained. "But I think that Movistar and Tinkoff missed it and they wanted to push it to chase it down. BMC were also pushing a lot on the last lap but I think that it’s possible. It’s always dangerous when you have Tony Martin with 10 seconds in front."
The victory must be a relief for the Etixx-QuickStep team who so often found themselves the bridesmaids this spring with second places at five of the major cobbled classics and no victory - a frustrating statistic for a team that has run away with the overall team victory ranking for the past two seasons. However, Kwiatkowski didn’t feel any extra burden to pull out a win for the team.
"I always put pressure on myself there is no pressure from the team. The first part of this season was really successful and the team can be happy with the second places in Flanders and Roubaix,” said Kwiatkowski. “It proves that we were trying to win the races. We were just putting the dot on the i here. I think that the whole team can be happy."
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