Michal Kwiatkowski was a vital component in Chris Froome's fourth Tour de France victory last year, memorably pedalling himself to a standstill on stage 18 of the race on the Col d'Izoard. He'll be equally important to Froome and Team Sky both on the flat stages and in the high mountains again this year.
Five of the eight riders in Team Sky's Tour de France starting line-up dominated last month's Critérium du Dauphiné, with Geraint Thomas winning the overall and the trio of Thomas, Kwiatkowski and Gianni Moscon between them wearing the Dauphiné yellow leader's jersey for all but one stage of the race thanks to a dominant team time trial performance.
The stage 3 team time trial at this month's Tour de France could be just as important for the team's overall GC hopes later in the race, and, in the meantime, could see a similar pass-the-parcel of the maillot jaune between Team Sky riders during the following six stages, depending on the nature of the racing.
"The team time trial is really important for us", Kwiatkowski told Cyclingnews after Sky's pre-race team press conference. "This year we don't have a proper opening stage with a prologue or a time trial.
"After two stages for the sprinters, or maybe for riders who know how to ride in a crosswind, the team time trial is going to be a very important stage.
"We know that we did well at the Dauphiné, but the Tour de France is another level completely, so let's hope we can do it right. We did the things we need to do correctly on today's recon of the course, which was the reason we came to France a day earlier than we otherwise would have. That shows how important the team time trial is for us."
Team Sky showed the opening prologue in Dusseldorf a similar level of respect at last year's Tour, placing four riders in the top 10 of the 2017 opener, leading to the team holding the yellow jersey at last year's Tour for all but two stages, thanks to Thomas and Froome.
Taking yellow early will also benefit the team's positioning in the peloton as they control the sharp end of the race, which could prove vital leading into the cobbled ninth stage.
"The gains from winning the team time trial might be crucial for the first nine stages with regards to positioning in the peloton, the movement in the bunch and how to respond to the sectors on the cobbles, so it's important, but of course it's a very long race from then on," explained Kwiatkowski.
"I think that cobbled stage is going to be tough for everyone. Even Luke Rowe, who has raced a couple of years in a row at Paris-Roubaix, or Gianni Moscon – even these guys are always scared [for the cobbles], but we're here to support Chris.
"The cobbled stage will definitely be hard, but we'll stay as a unit to gain time, and not think about crashing or bad luck," continued the 28-year-old Polish rider. "We'll be ready for that stage, and in fact I'm actually quite excited about it."
Although the second half of the 2018 Tour de France is where the general classification battle will likely be won, nobody is expecting an idle procession in the opening week.
Kwiatkowski knows just how crucial the first week will be, and while the final yellow jersey perhaps won't be decided in northern France, the former world champion knows that Froome's fifth Tour de France title challenge could easily be lost there.
"I think everyone knows that the best form of defence is to attack. If you're thinking about how to ride stage 9, I'd say you have to think about winning it.
"If you're in that scenario, then you're also fighting for the best places possible, and maybe then you can save some energy for the upcoming stages, like the stage after the rest day [stage 10 to Le Grand-Bornand].
"After the rest day, there are in fact three really, really hard stages in a row, which is going to be challenging. But at the end of the day, I'm here to fight as hard as I can."
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