Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) has one important advantage when he races against Peter Sagan: while some of the world champion's current rivals see him as virtually unbeatable, Kwiatkowski knows he can get the better of Sagan in certain situations, having done so when they often raced against each other at junior and Under 23 level.
In the crux of Milan-San Remo, Kwiatkowski and Team Sky used every possible tactical advantage they could find to create a winning edge. Kwiatkowski produced a huge effort to make sure he got across to Sagan when he attacked on the Poggio. Then on the descent he could play mind games and miss turns, forcing Sagan to do more work because Elia Viviani was waiting in the peloton in case the race came back together for a bunch sprint finish.
When Kwiatkowski realised the three-rider attack was going to go all the way to the finish, he focused on beating Sagan in the sprint.
Sagan was well into his tactical trap and generously dragged the three-rider attack to the finish. Then Kwiatkowski rode the sprint up the Via Roma perfectly, putting out - according to his Strava file - a staggering maximum power of 1220W after more than seven hours of racing (17.9W/Kg).
Those numbers aren't surprising for the Pole, whose characteristics are more like Sagan's than their physiques show.
"As juniors, we were at a very similar level, I had more chances to race against him than any other guy perhaps. I know that Peter is beatable. You just have to believe it," Kwiatkowski said.
"Maybe half the bunch think that he's from another planet, but I know that I'm able to follow him, just like on the Poggio today."
"When we talked about tactics before the race, we don't think about who's going to make it when Sagan goes, we know that I can follow him," Kwiatkowski explained quietly but with the innate self-confidence that helped him become world champion in 2014.
"It's all about winning, not being second or third. It's always better to have two cards to play and both me and Alaphilippe had sprinters behind who could win. We came here with two leaders, and I'm always happy to have that excuse of having a good sprinter behind. I knew that I could wait and not go to the front. Alaphilippe was the same. I don't think Sagan was thinking about Sam Bennett, he was making his effort. In the Classics when you have a few cards to play, you can go for the win."
"Elia was impressive today. We talked a lot on the radio and he said I had to follow any moves. I thought that it'd be a bunch sprint and so I'm thankful to Elia that he kept me awake, gave me the wake-up call on the Poggio and that I could follow that attack from Peter."
Thanks to his years of racing against Sagan, his confidence, and his tactical superiority, Kwiatkowski was able to find the edge in the sprint to the line and beat Sagan.
"I always believe I can beat anyone if you make things right," he explained carefully.
"I was really trying to focus on the sprint. For sure, I was gambling a bit with Sagan's mind and for sure, he was under big pressure. I know that wearing the rainbow jersey puts you in a hard situation.
"A bunch sprint and a one-to-one sprint are very different. I was 100 percent sure that Sagan has better acceleration and he's just a better sprinter. But he is beatable."
"I did my very best in the sprint. I left a little gap before the sprint, forcing him to lead out. He looked behind and I knew that when he saw the gap he'd start the sprint first. On the track, if you are directly behind the wheel, you will lose a couple of metres when a faster guy starts a sprint. I was trying to stay relaxed and have enough space to get up to a higher speed before the finish line. In the end, that worked out by a couple of centimetres. I'm happy how it went…."
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.