Only Fabian Cancellara has won Strade Bianche three times, and he's the only rider to have a sector of dirt road named in his honour.
Kwiatkowski won Strade Bianche in 2014 while still an emerging talent. He took his second victory in 2017 and so will start this year’s race wearing race number one. His impressive victory at the recent Volta ao Algarve arguably makes him the favourite for this year's race, but he is not yet thinking about where he’d like his special Strade Bianche milestone.
"I'm really happy to be here as winner of last year, there’s a little pressure for that reason, but I had a great winter preparation and had some good racing in Algarve and a wonderful period in the last two weeks before coming in to Strade Bianche. I have to be happy, even with the weather. I think the race will go on and we'll have a wonderful race,” Kwiatkowski said with optimism despite the heavy rain falling in Siena as he later posed for the pre-race photo opportunity with Peter Sagan and Wout van Aert.
"I think it's a wonderful idea that you can have your own sector of dirt road but I'm not thinking about that too much yet. Tomorrow we’ll go for the win but not think too much about the sector. We've got strength in our team with Gianni Moscon and other riders. I'll be very happy whoever can compete for the win. That's the important thing, winning, rather than personal ambitions.
"I'll start to think about having a dirt sector named after me when I'm close to winning."
Team Sky have left little to chance in the build-up to Strade Bianche, with Kwiatkowski and his teammates based in Tuscany since Wednesday. His social media posts revealed the snowy conditions of recent days but the Polish rider is now preparing himself mentally for a hard day of racing on wet gravel roads in mild temperatures.
"The mental game is also important. You have to set up your mind for a hard race,” he said. "It’ll be unique with these weather conditions but nobody can say how things will go until you’re out on the bike.
"Everything is important in a race like this. You can lose the race with one puncture even if you are the strongest. Every factors matter. It's about being lucky or unlucky at end of day. You just have to hope everything comes together in the right moment."
Sagan and Van Aert admitted they have not done any recon of dirt the roads, yet Kwiatkowski is convinced it can help him and Team Sky. He has decided to use his usual Pinarello F10 road bike, fitted with wider tyres. He was tempted to switch to Shimano SPD mountain bike pedals but will use a normal road bike with caliper brakes rather than disc brakes.
"I rode on Wednesday and I think that was the best idea," he said.
"I did a five-hour ride, I've never did such a long recon of Strade Bianche. Riding 400km on dirt roads is completely different than being on the tarmac. It was a really good decision. I rode with Gianni (Moscon), Salvatore (Puccio) and Leo (Leonardo Basso). It was cold and snowy but the conditions are completely different now, and will perhaps be again tomorrow. We had some snow on the roads but it's going to be muddier tomorrow."
Kwiatkowski recalled riding Milan-San Remo in 2013, when the riders where caught in snow blizzard before the Passo Turchino and covered part of the route in team buses. He is convinced a wet and muddy Strade Bianche will be historic and further develop Strade Bianche’s status as one of best races of the season.
"I remember 30-year-old men crying and screaming from the pain. That was unique, but I think it's going to be another level in the mud. Let's hope the temps will be a bit higher than what we had in San Remo. If it's more than 5C we should be all right," he suggested.
"This race is special for everyone; it's one of those races where you are 100 per cent sure that the winner is one of the strongest guys. There's no playing games. It's a great race, early in the season, a week after the opening weekend (in Belgium) and well placed on the calendar. It's going to have a great history.
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