Polish champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma – QuickStep) was the best young rider and fourth in the general classification before the first mountain summit, stage 8 of the Tour de France. But he was one of the first big overall contenders to get dropped in the final kilometres of a stormy Saturday afternoon up to Gérardmer La Mauselaine.
Eventually, he crossed the finish line in Gérardmer 1:36 minutes after race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). That keeps him narrowly in fourth overall and still in his white jersey of the best young rider. However, he lost a lot of ground on most GC rivals who were aiming for a top-10 result. After the stage, Kwiatkowski stated the fast pace and sore legs hurt him on the climb.
Three climbs in the last 20km were on the route of the first mountain stage. Due to the fierce pace set out by the Tinkoff-Saxo team, Kwiatkowski had to let go of the peloton shortly before the top of the second climb. Nevertheless, he managed to finish ahead of many riders who only cracked on the final climb.
"I had such a sore legs on the first climb and you saw Tinkoff-Saxo was trying to make a really hard race. I dropped back on the worst moment. The two kilometres before the top of the climb were easier. I could probably stay there in the group. Afterward, Tony Martin and Jan Bakelants really helped me to find my own speed so I could finish as best as I can the stage."
Kwiatkowski figured he lost the white jersey and headed straight to the team bus after the finish. It turned out he still had 13 seconds over Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale). It meant he had to ride back through the rain to the podium to receive a new jersey. Afterwards he took the time to answer some questions while sitting on the steps of the team bus.
"I'm a little bit disappointed that I drop out of there but it's the first mountain finish so let's take a look at what happens next. It was such high speeds on these climbs. I just couldn’t follow. Of course it’s nice to stand out on the podium and show to the fans that I’m still there."
Though receiving a serious knock on Saturday afternoon, Kwiatkowski realized there were lessons to be drawn, while not forgetting he came to the Tour de France to learn.
"I came here to explore myself. If you have a bad moment you have to find a positive and try to learn from that. The time trial is my speciality. Finding my own speed is what I like and I could find this tempo, even today. I came here to learn and a stage like that gives me a lot of experience, that's what I need."
On Sunday, the Tour de France peloton heads into the second stage through the Vosges, featuring six climbs, though the last top is at 43km from the finish in Mulhouse.