With Sky teammate Geraint Thomas in yellow and looking safe for overall Volta ao Algarve victory, getting into the final stage breakaway at the Volta ao Algarve was a gamble for Michal Kwiatkowski. A gamble that ultimately paid off though as the Pole won the stage and swapped second for first place with Thomas.
A second final day general classification win for Sky following Egan Bernal's Oro y Paz win at the start of February.
Speaking after his second stage win of the race in southern Portugal and second career GC win after his 2014 triumph, Kwiatkowski explained the day did not play out as planned.
"It wasn't the strategy, it was just how the race went," he said.
In the early stages of the stage, a large breakaway which included the likes of Tony Martin (Katusha), Philippe Gilbert and Zdenek Štybar of Quick-Step Floors broke clear with Kwiatkowski and teammate Michal Golas quick to cover and infiltrate the move. Given a long lead by the peloton, the breakaway would eventually splinter and shatter on approach to the final Malhão finale with Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) then Štybar doing the major damage
While the peloton appeared content to let the stage go to the breakaway, Kwiatkowski wasn't letting the likes of Stybar take the win and potentially the overall win.
"I know how much you have to pay the price for riding so many kilometres on the flat and then on the Alto Malhão," he said of the attacking ride by his former teammate. "The Malhão will never forgive you. It is such a hard climb. The difference between us was huge, but I think Štybar rode a great race as well. He put us under pressure to close the GC."
Knowing that "if we do something wrong it would cost us first place and second place in the GC", Kwiatkowski added that "I felt the whole stage under pressure". Knowing full well a "random scenario" like a flat tyre would quickly unravel Sky's aggressive plan.
Sensing the danger of Štybar's stage aspirations, the remaining riders in the break reeled him in on the Malhão with Kwiatkowski then going solo for the final 1.5-kilometres of the stage. The move sealing the stage and overall double after a day of unconventional racing from Sky. Sweet relief after a day of stress for Kwiatkowski.
"I really had in my head that the only way I can look Geraint Thomas in the face after the stage, was after winning the stage," he said. "That is why I tried to do it so much and that is why in the end we are really happy."
At the finish, Kwiatkowski and Thomas embraced in a show of team harmony. Thomas providing insight into how he saw the stage unfold.
"At least the team won, but for sure I would have liked to have kept the jersey. The form and the legs are still good, so it's a good start to the season," he said.
"It was hard on the head at times, especially the last time up the climb, I was thinking to myself 'what are we racing for?' when people started attacking. I just found out that I'm still on the podium, so that's quite nice I guess."
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