Michal Kwiatkowski is a softly-spoken character, and often a man of few words but that only belies his deep-rooted self-confidence.
The former world champion had high expectations for his debut season with Team Sky, and he had slimmed down significantly for the occasion. Victory at E3 Harelbeke seemed to indicate it would be a bumper year for the Polish rider. However, illness soon hampered his early season and it would continue to do so for much of the rest of the year.
Kwiatkowski has often said his season derailed due to one illness or another, perhaps a symptom of pushing himself too hard. He's keen to stop that happening in 2017 and is planning a more gradual ease into his race programme. After spending much of the off-season at home in Poland with his friends and family, he is in a better place.
"The off-season gave me a lot. I spent time with my friends, family and girlfriend. With the difficulties I had during the season, it wasn't easy to forget about the bad days, but it all went well in the off-season, and now I have a fresh mind and I'm ready to rock," Kwiatkowski told Cyclingnews at the recent Team Sky training camp in Mallorca.
"I'm working on trying to stay calm and not pushing myself to the limits in December or January. Of course, I'm building big volume and my strength for the up and coming season, but it's not about starting the season with a big kick. This year, I'm really taking care of my health, and that's the most important thing."
Kwiatkowski's season is set to begin in Mallorca, where he has been since early January, followed by the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and the Volta ao Algarve. The 26-year-old says he doesn't expect much in terms of results from these races other than building his form.
Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo are all on the cards too, along with the Vuelta a Pais Vasco at the beginning of April. A trip to the cobbled Classics has long been a tradition for Kwiatkowski, in particular when he was riding for Quick-Step, but he will eschew them as he places his big focus on the Ardennes Classics.
"I love to ride [the Cobbles], of course, but you have to make choices before the season starts. Having this experience from last year, we decided to skip that and just focus on one thing," he explained.
A jack of all trades
Focusing on one thing has been easier said than done for Kwiatkowski and he has built himself into a solid all-rounder who is almost as adept at one-day racing as he is at stage racing. He's beaten Peter Sagan in a two-up sprint to the line at E3 Harelbeke and finished 11th overall at the Tour de France in 2013. He was world champion in 2014 thanks to a superb late attack.
While he may not excel in one specific area, he believes that his reputation as a jack of all trades plays to his advantage too. As his career progresses, he is keen not to be typecast as a specific type of rider.
"I see myself as a rider with no speciality. I can ride well in all conditions, descending, climbing, time trialling, sprinting, all of the things that a rider needs for a stage race but also the skills that a rider who does well in the Classics needs to have," he told Cyclingnews. "I think that's my strength that I don't really have weak points. If it comes to the final, if I was my rival, I wouldn't know how to beat me. Where is my weakest point?"
"I've never regretted not specialising in one thing because at the end of the day cycling is wonderful. It gives me a wonderful experience winning Strade Bianche or finishing second in Paris-Nice or winning other races. It's just a great experience, and so far life hasn't pushed me in one direction."
Kwiatkowski hasn't seriously targeted the overall classification at a Grand Tour in several years, following his breakthrough at the Tour de France in 2013. Results have still come in the shorter stage races such as the Volta ao Algarve and Paris-Nice, and he hasn't discounted a Grand Tour bid somewhere down the line.
"If you have the opportunity to ride alongside Chris Froome in a Grand Tour then you want to pick up something from him and maybe in the future try to ride on your own," he said.
Kwiatkowski hopes that he will be alongside Froome at this year's Tour de France, who is looking for a fourth yellow jersey. Kwiatkowski missed the Tour last year after falling ill at the Criterium du Dauphine, and his stint at the Vuelta a Espana was ended prematurely for the same reason.
A little further down the line, the World Championships in Bergen are also in the back of his mind. The hilly course and potential for bad weather could suit him well, but for now, the focus is on maintaining a smooth, gradual path to the Ardennes Classics in April.
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