Michał Kwiatkowski cruised home over five minutes down on stage 3 of the Tour de France alongside his battered and bruised Ineos Grenadiers teammate Pavel Sivakov, with the Polish rider well aware that conserving energy on flatter stages would be a benefit further down the line.
And those benefits could come into view as early as today, Tuesday, with the race tackling its first mountain summit finish at Orcières-Merlette.
It’s neither the longest nor the toughest ascent the riders will face during this year’s Tour de France but having a summit finish this early in the race is a relative rarity, and Kwiatkowski knows that he will need to be on guard as he and his Ineos teammates look to protect their defending champion, Egan Bernal.
The Colombian hasn’t put a foot wrong so far in the race and sits sixth overall, 17 seconds off Julian Alphilippe’s lead. While Orcières-Merlette is unlikely to blow the race apart, there will be tension in the air and there are undoubtedly going to be changes of some sort in the GC picture.
“It’s not the hardest day if you look at the whole three weeks. I would not expect big moves on GC, with riders trying to explode the race pretty early but obviously you never really know what the conditions will be like with the weather and all those things that can affect the race," Kwiatkowski warned.
"Hopefully, if the opportunity is there we’re going to take it but we also have to be cautious and watch out for the main rivals.”
Whether Alaphilippe turns out to be a true rival or not for the yellow jersey remains to be seen.
He put in a rousing performance on stage 2 to win the stage and take yellow but there are many sterner tests to come in the second week. However, Kwiatkowski believes that the French hope could even extend his lead on GC at the end of stage 4. Especially with bonus seconds available on the line.
“Julian is capable of even extending his gap,” the Ineos rider said after Caleb Ewan’s victory on stage 3.
“There are plenty of opportunities to take that yellow jersey from him and for sure there are riders that are going to try to do that. Ones that are still close in the GC. The yellow jersey is the yellow jersey, if you’ve got the opportunity to take it, you have to try it, so I guess there will be that dynamic in the final again.”
Kwiatkowski finished stage 3 alongside Sivakov, with the Russian still feeling the effects of his two heavy crashes on stage 1. The Tour de France debutant has dug deep over the last two days and his Polish teammate tipped him to come through and find his feet in the coming days.
“He’s mentally ready to survive. The Tour de France is three weeks long and he knows that. Every day he needs know that he needs to just pass that moment of suffering and definitely it will get better,” Kwiatkowski said.
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