Kwiatkowski says Ineos reverted to old-school Sky tactics in Tour de France
'We couldn’t use the strength of the team in the Tour' says former World Champion
Time zones, recovery, jet lag and “maybe” eating sushi are increasingly uppermost in Michal Kwiatkowski’s thoughts as a seventh Tour de France finish from eight participations looms on the horizon for the Ineos Grenadiers pro and the Olympic Games in Japan, representing Poland, follows immediately afterwards.
But the Tour de France is in the here and now, and as the former World Champion tells Cyclingnews, it’s hardly been the most straightforward of races for Ineos Grenadiers. But while they definitely wanted more from it, the experienced Grand Tour racer says they will finish the race with their heads high.
The circumstances in the Tour changed radically for Ineos Grenadiers in the first week, with the injuries and time losses from crashes for their contenders early in the race abruptly leaving the squad switching its focus from four leaders to one.
That created what from the outside looked like a 'Back to the Future' scenario for the squad. Just like Marty and Doc in the film, the Ineos Grenadiers riders had to reach deep into the back of their DeLorean glove boxes for their previous Grand Tour strategy manuals, dating back from when Ineos were Sky and the squad’s approach centred on propelling a lone GC leader into the best position possible for an attack.
“We came with the mentality of using the guys who could be potentially close on GC - Richie [Porte], Tao [Geoghegan Hart], Richard [Carapaz] and G [Geraint Thomas], to fight against the favourites, which was obviously [Tadej] Pogačar [UAE Team Emirates],” Kwiatkowski told Cyclingnews before stage 19.
“But because of the crashes we couldn’t go with that plan. It was all focussed on Richard. We couldn’t use the strength of the team in terms of putting the pressure on the others with just attacking with the other GC guys, we had to put pressure like the old-school Sky and wait for them for them [the opposition] to crack.
“We did it for a couple of guys [opponents] but [race leader] Pogačar was unbreakable. So we are proud of what we achieved, but we always had an appetite for more.”
However, Kwiatkowski said, the idea of beating Pogačar simply never became applicable. The switch in the weather and temperature from the cold to the heat in the second week, which they thought might reveal a chink in his armour, had no effect whatsoever. The team’s strategy as a result stayed the same, but according to the Pole, their approach switched towards keeping other rivals for second and third place out of contention.
“As he was performing in an incredible way in eight degrees [Celsius] and raining, we were thinking maybe 35 degrees on Ventoux would not suit him well. So we were hoping he would crack big time. But it didn’t happen.
“We got rid of other podium contenders, and that wasn’t easy. Some scenarios, with Guillaume Martin [Cofidis] and Ben O’Connor [AG2R-Citroën] moving into GC contention, weren’t ideal. And there were always some GC guys who were a threat to Richard in the time trials.”
As things stand, with those objectives fulfilled, Carapaz is in line for a third-place overall in Paris. “Hopefully Richard will have a good go in the TT, but either way he’s got a better gap [on fourth] so he’s in a good place for the podium.”
As an versatile rider with Classics, week-long stage races, a Grand Tour lead in the Vuelta a España and even an Alpine Tour stage in his palmares, Kwiatkowski says he found his services in demand in almost every different scenario in the Tour for Ineos Grenadiers.
“The Tour is harder and harder each year and from my perspective there’s no such thing as a rest day or ‘this day’ doesn’t suit you.”
But he has come through feeling he has not had “such a bad end to the third week."
“Since the finish at Luz Ardiden, the last key moment for the GC guys, my Tour’s over. I’m thinking about how to recover and just prepare myself for dealing with time zones, jet lag and so on.”
Poland’s success in the past Olympics in 2016, taking bronze with Rafal Majka (UAE Team Emirates), is the best kind of reference point. On the downside there are only three riders in the Polish squad, unlike the four in Rio: himself, Majka and Polish national TT champ Maciej Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe), who’s doing the time trial as well.
And then? Kwiatkowski is looking at doing the Tour de Pologne, which is, as he puts it “close in time and it’s close to my heart as well. But I can’t promise, I don’t want to go to Poland and not perform, expectations are high and I went through that in the past. But if I’m feeling good, I’ll be there.”
The Olympic Games, though, are even closer and that is his first post-Tour goal. “I’m super-motivated, and the condition is there. We’re haven’t got as many riders as the others but Rafal’s clearly in good shape. Hopefully we’ll get a good result to take back home.”
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.
By Jackie Tyson