Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) steady progress towards a triumph in an Ardennes Classic took another significant step forward in la Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday as he clinched third on the Mur de Huy.
Already fifth in Flèche Wallonne last year and fifth in Amstel Gold last Sunday, Kwiatkowski brandished his first Classics bouquet as he stood on the podium of the Mur de Huy. Aged just 23, it is a reasonable bet that this will not be the last time the Pole takes a top placing somewhere in the Ardennes.
Kwiatkowski said he was quietly satisfied with his progress in the Belgian race, even though the first question he was asked in the press conference - had he made his move on the Mur too soon? - suggested some felt he might have miscalculated a little and played his cards a little early.
However, the Polish national champion preferred to take away the positives and signs of progress compared to his 2013 ride in La Flèche Wallonne, seeing his glass of Belgian beer as half-full, as it were, rather than half-empty - an upbeat attitude which the thousands of cycling fans downing their own glasses of amber nectar as they cheered the riders on the Mur de Huy on Wednesday would surely approve.
"I was actually pretty smart on the Mur, I started the bottom exactly where I wanted to be and I kept my own pace. It was much better than last year where I lost a few positions with 400 metres to go, this time I could maintain my speed," Kwiatkowski said.
"I surprised myself, because Flèche Wallonne isn't a race that really suits me, Amstel and Liège suit me better, but I'm still in good shape and able to fight for a top result:"
He was guarded about his chances on Sunday at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, pointing out that last year after two top ten results in Amstel and Liège he had not done well there - finishing 92nd - and saying he would "look on it as a new experience." Still, less racing in his legs, too, in 2014 at this point in the calendar compared with 2013 and now a year older and stronger too, as he told Cyclingnews before the start, he feels he should be able to dig deeper come Sunday.
"Last year’s Flèche was also promising for Liège-Bastogne-Liège and I couldn't finish well, but I think I'm recovering better after each race. It's a very tough race though. We'll see."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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