Michael Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) is growing with confidence after a strong opening weekend at the Tour de France. The Polish rider is among the 20 riders who sit two seconds behind race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
Kwiatkowski had a tough build-up to the Tour de France, after abandoning the Critérium du Dauphiné. The poor form had a mental impact on the rider who won Strade Bianchi and the Volta ao Algarve earlier this year.
"I didn’t really have confidence before the Tour because after such a good part of the season, I was trying to build up my condition again," Kwiatkowski told Cyclingnews as he sat on the steps of the team bus at the end of stage three - where he helped to deliver teammate Mark Renshaw to third place behind Marcel Kittel and Peter Sagan.
Kwiatkowski put in a strong performance on the Tour’s second stage to Sheffield. The tough course was compared to both Amstel Gold and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where the 24-year-old took two third places. He managed a repeat performance in Sheffield with another third place. It showed flashes of his spring form and bodes well for later in the race.
"I was not sure about my condition again, but I proved at the national time trial championships and yesterday that I was in good shape. It’s just beginning, it’s good to have some confidence but there are a lot of stages to go."
With the team’s leader, sprinter Mark Cavendish, out with a separated shoulder and torn ligaments, Omega Pharma-QuickStep has had to re-think their strategy. On stage three they threw their resources behind Renshaw, and Paris-Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra will be allowed the freedom to ride his own race on the cobbled stage five. However, with less energy used to support Cavendish in the sprints and help him through the mountains, it opens up the door for more support for Kwiatkowski.
Kwiatkowski says, though, that the Manx missile offers more than just stage victories for the team. "With Mark maybe I would have more support, because that is one guy more. Even if Mark cannot help me during the stage, he always motivates us before the stage and he really brings a lot of good things to the team like team spirit. For sure we have to play some different cards on the Tour but in the end we are trying to do the same thing."
Last year, Kwiatkowski made his Tour de France debut. He looked like a favourite for the white jersey classification but fell off the pace in the final week after becoming ill. He ended the race 11th overall and third in the young riders’ classification. His strong start to the year makes him a contender for this title again, but he is yet to truly prove himself over three weeks. For him, however, this year’s race is not about that.
"It’s just my second Tour and I’m only 24 years old so I’m still exploring myself," he explained to Cyclingnews. "Even if this is not my greatest Tour, even if I don’t feel progression from last year still that’s experience that I really need. I think I have made a big step forward at the classics but I still need to explore myself and to make big improvements at a Grand Tour, I need another few years."
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