If it were positioned differently in the season, Michal Kwiatkowski would count himself among the top favourites for Il Lombardia - a race that requires the kind of climbing prowess, descending skills and punchy sprint he displayed en route to winning Milan-San Remo - but the Team Sky rider played down his chances of book-ending a stellar 2017 season with Monument victories, citing fatigue from a long and successful season.
"I would love to do Lombardia well, but the season has been very long," Kwiatkowski said in an interview on Team Sky's website. "For sure, we will be up there as a team and we will try to do our best to win the race."
The Polish rider will join Mikel Landa, Sergio Henao, Gianni Moscon, Wout Poels - any one of which could be a contender in Lombardy - and Mikel Nieve, Diego Rosa and Salvatore Puccio in Team Sky's line-up for the Race of the Falling Leaves, and seems prepared to support them rather than the other way around.
"Even if I am not there for the victory I know I can do a lot of work for some of the other guys," he said. "We will see how the race goes. It's the last Monument and of course, I would love to do it well, but if any of my teammates can win it then we will go for it.
"That's the strength of our team - we can play a few cards in these races. Let's hope a Team Sky jersey will be on the top step of the podium."
Kwiatkowski's first season with Sky was plagued by illnesses and under-performances, the result of some unsuccessful experimentation with his race schedule. Being sick in February threw off his preparation the Classics, although he managed a win in the E3 Harelbeke. In 2017, he returned to a more traditional programme, using the early season stage races to ramp up for the season - his second place in the Volta ao Algarve showed the direction he was heading.
The result: a victory in Strade Bianche, the surprise win in Milan-San Remo over Peter Sagan, second in the Amstel Gold Race and third in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. After a well-deserved break, he claimed the Polish time trial title, raced the Tour de France in support of winner Chris Froome, then used his Grand Tour legs to claim another victory in Clasica San Sebastian.
The 2014 World Champion went into the Worlds in Bergen as his country's leader for the road race, but the race didn't pan out in his favour, and he ended up 11th in the bunch sprint.
"It's been a very long year. The longest period for me was my preparation for the worlds. I skipped a little bit of racing to try to freshen up after the Tour and I was really motivated to do well in Bergen.
"We did pretty well in the team time trial [Team Sky finished third], but I missed a medal and the position I wanted in the road race. So that was quite a long period and is maybe why I'm not feeling 100 per cent now."
The Pole has no regrets, however, and intends to follow a similar regime in the off-season with an eye at finally winning that elusive Ardennes Classic.
"Looking back to January I did everything I could, but you can never predict these things. I'm so happy it turned out this well," Kwiatkowski said.
"I was always in the game to win the races. That's what I expect. We all know how sport is - there are so many guys fighting for victory and the most important thing is we were always there - at the races I won, Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo, but also those we lost, like in the Ardennes.
"I was there, fighting for the victory – I just missed that little something to win. That will keep me hungry for next season.
"I like the way I was racing and training this year - for sure there will be some small changes, but at the end of the day I would love to do well in the Ardennes, race at the Tour - and target the world championships. That's always a big goal," he said.
Winning San Remo this year was an unexpected thrill, but so too was having such a solid Tour de France that he came second in the closing time trial, five seconds quicker than Froome and one second behind his compatriot Maciej Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe).
"I've never had the opportunity to ride for such a big team aiming to win a Grand Tour. It was something I will never forget. Racing every day, trying not to lose time, fighting until Paris; it was a great experience. I didn't expect my body to be able to do it so well for three weeks, so that was something new to me. I hope I can do it again," Kwiatkowski said.
In 2013, Kwiatkowski finished 11th overall in the Tour de France, and in any other team could be a Grand Tour leader. He isn't dismissing the idea of eventually targeting a Grand Tour, but wants to keep his skills sharp for the one-day Classics.
"Of course performing for three weeks as I did gives you a little bit of hope, but to win a Grand Tour you need to be good at time trialling and super good with climbing," he said.
"If there are any signs that I can progress with those two aspects while not losing my ability to sprint and fight in the wind, then I would like to try. First maybe at a stage race like the Dauphine or Paris-Nice, then if the opportunity comes along for sure I would like to look at leading a Grand Tour in the future - just like [Geraint Thomas] has done.
"He's taken a similar path to me and this year [at the Giro] he was unlucky, but for sure he would have been up there to fight for the GC. He made lots of little steps to prove himself as a leader for a Grand Tour."
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