Michal Kwiatkowski says that becoming world champion and spending the year in the rainbow jersey was a life-changing experience for him. Kwiatkowski soloed to victory at the World Championships in Ponferrada last season, after getting the jump on the peloton late in the race. Since taking the fabled jersey, the Polish rider has noticed a marked difference to how he is received by the fans.
"It changed my life. People everywhere started to recognise me," he said in an interview with the UCI website. "When they scream your nickname and surname during a hard uphill or a really tough moment of the race that always gives you a lot of motivation. So I was really happy about it, that I could represent cycling with the rainbow jersey. That was an amazing year. I was happy to wear it. It's a big responsibility, but I was trying to do my best."
Kwiatkowski's year in rainbow began well with victories at Paris-Nice, Volta ao Portugal and the Amstel Gold Race. However, he had some disappointments after abandoning the Tour de France and his home race the Tour de Pologne. "I'm happy about the first part of the season, but it's another season where I'm still trying to find my best path, preparing for the first part of the season, the middle and the end," he explained.
"I'm not really happy about the middle part. I struggled a little bit on the Tour and the Tour of Poland, but let's hope the lesson was learned from that part and now I keep on going, keep on trying to be back in shape. And since the Brussels classics I've been moving forward. Since the races in Canada, I'm feeling much better and I'm able to compete with the best riders, which is really important before a world race."
Kwiatkowski is spending his final days in the rainbow stripes, as the peloton builds up to the road race on Sunday. The course is favourable to him, however, and there is every chance that he could be doing it all over again next year. Repeating it will be hard and few have ever won back-to-back titles. In fact, only five have managed to successfully defend their title the following season with Paolo Bettini the last to do it in 2007.
"The World Championship race is always a lottery," said Kwiatkowski. "You have a group of favourites that can win this race, and I was one of them last year. I checked the course already. The last five kilometres are also pretty tricky this year. Let's hope I can be up there with the favourites. I would love to see myself up there fighting to defend the rainbow jersey. It would be amazing but I know how hard it is to get that. It was hard last year so it will be even harder this year."
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