Former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski has moved into the top spot overall of the Vuelta a España after Sky teammate and previous leader Pete Kennaugh asked the Polish rider if he wanted to chance his arm in the bunch sprint at the end of stage 2.
Kwiatkowski placed fourth behind winner Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep) at the finish in Baiona. Although still tied on time with Kennaugh, Kwiatkowski moved into the overall lead by virtue of finishing ahead of the Manxman. And so it was Kwiatkowski who soaked up the applause on the sun-drenched Atlantic seafront as the first Polish leader of the Vuelta..
For Kwiatkowski, this Vuelta red jersey is his first time to lead a Grand Tour overall in a career which has already seen him take the world title on Spanish soil, in Ponferrada in 2014, as well as claims Amstel Gold Race in 2015 and E3 Harelbeke this spring.
The spell in the lead also confirms that, after missing out on the Tour de France this summer, Kwiatkowski is back on song for the remainder of the season.
"This is one of the nicest starts to a race I've ever had," Kwiatkowski said after taking the red jersey. "Winning the team time trial is an incredible feeling, and I'm really thankful that afterwards I had the opportunity to go for the sprint. A few kilometres from the final, Pete asked me if I wanted to go for the sprint and I accepted this proposal."
Kwiatkowski only did so, however, after making sure that the team's top priority on such stages, keeping Chris Froome out of trouble, remained on course. "There had been a crash, but we saw that Chris was ok, so there was no risk," he observed. "Then in the sprint, I was actually following [Movistar sprinter Jose Joaquin] Rojas more than the other guys, because I knew if he took the time bonus then he would get the lead." In the event, Rojas finished twelfth, but as Kwiatkowski saw it, "we didn't want to give him the red jersey, because we deserve it."
Sky's overall objective remains unchanged despite Kwiatkowski's spell in red. Just as Kennaugh had stated the day before, the team's sole target in this Vuelta is to give Froome as much support as possible in his GC bid. Kwiatkowski's personal aims, he said, are anything but a priority.
"We've come here with that goal, which is a Chris Froome victory, and tomorrow is a pretty hard stage. We'll try to put Chris in the right position and make sure he doesn't lose time on GC," Kwiatkowski said. But for one day at least, the 26-year-old is the Vuelta's man of the moment.