Kwiatkowski: 'Tuesday is the Vuelta's first big mountain checkpoint'

Vuelta a España race leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) has every intention of fighting for the top spot overall on Tuesday's first key mountain stage, the Polish rider explained after stage 3.

Kwiatkowski and the Vuelta a España GC contenders face their first big challenge on Tuesday with the 12km ascent to Alfacar.

Talking to reporters after he completed stage 3 safely in the main pack, Kwiatkowski said, "It's not about how long I want to have the leader's jersey – it's about having respect for it.

"Like in any race, you try to keep it for as long as you can. This is not a game – it's not something you just give away. So bearing that in mind, I'll try to hold it for as long as possible. But I have no idea how long that could be."

Munching on a bowl of rice between fielding questions, Kwiatkowski was noticeably blunt when asked how much he knew about the summit finish on stage 4.

"Not much," he answered, before taking another mouthful of rice.

However, the questions about whether Kwiatkowski can move across to fighting for the GC at a Grand Tour in the future cannot be disconnected from the Polish racer's performance in this Vuelta a España. And on a climb like Alfacar, there may well be some answers – albeit ones in a context of having recently ridden both the Tour de France and the Tour de Pologne, working very hard in the former and winning the latter.

"You don't know how you are going to go until you try," Kwiatkowski said. "Tomorrow is the first checkpoint on the climbs, and my climbing's something I’ve been working hard on. I don't know if you'll see improvements there tomorrow [Tuesday]. I'm working on it, but I don't know how I'll compare to Quintana and the rest of the bunch.

"Alfacar is a summit finish, and considering the heat in Spain and the dehydration, conserving energy will be important. It's hard to say who'll have the legs to go for it, as this is just the first week.

"At the end of the day, I have to play it smart. If I want to keep the jersey, I have to be focused on the best performance on that last climb," he continued. "I don't know much about it because I haven't had time during my preparation for the Vuelta to recon it. I'll know more when I look at the route book, and then I'll learn more again tomorrow from the sports director. At the moment, I'm kind of flexible."

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