After Team Sky shattered the peloton in the closing stages of the Vuelta a España's first mass-start stage on Sunday, Michal Kwiatkowski was hoping to finish off his teammates' hard work with a stage victory in Caminito del Rey. But the Polish champion was unable to counter the powerful uphill surge from Movistar's Alejandro Valverde and had to settle for second place.
Kwiatkowski missed out on winning the prologue by six seconds to BMC's Rohan Dennis, and even taking the race lead off the Australian was of little consolation after two near-misses in a row.
"It's not the way I wanted to take the jersey, I was hoping to win the stage," Kwiatkowski said according to TeamSky.com. "The team were amazing ahead of the finale but Valverde was very impressive. In his country, when he races La Vuelta, it's not easy to beat Alejandro. It's a bit disappointing but I'm the leader of La Vuelta."
Kwiatkowski did not need the time bonus to overtake Dennis in the overall classification, as the BMC rider was distanced when Team Sky and Movistar surged with 30km to go. Dennis ended up losing over 13 minutes on the stage, putting Kwiatkowski in the lead over Valverde by 14 seconds with Sunweb's Wilco Kelderman in third at 25 seconds. There is the real possibility that the Pole can hold onto the race lead for several more days, but a stage win is his overarching goal.
"I'm happy about yesterday and about my shape today. Let's stay focused and try to win another one," he said. "I just want to celebrate this moment. La Vuelta is really long so I want to enjoy tonight and then racing in the red jersey tomorrow."
Kwiatkowski had plenty of podium time after the stage, as he leads the points and combined classifications in addition to the overall. The team has big ambitions even if they lack the kind of obvious Grand Tour firepower that they brought to the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France with Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas.
"The Vuelta has just started and we have to play it smart with the whole team. (Think about) how we're going to race and what is the opportunity to bring success to Team Sky. It doesn't mean only on the GC. We have to be flexible and take what is there, whether it's with David [de la Cruz], Tao [Geoghegan Hart], Sergio [Henao] and any other riders."