World Champion Kwiatkowski hopes to peak for Tour de France

World Champion Michel Kwiatkowski says he will not be pushing for such a strong start in2015 compared with previous seasons, when the Etixx-Quick Step star hit the ground running with a vengeance.

Last year Kwiatkowski was victorious as early as the Challenge of Mallorca, soloing away to victory in the hardest of the four part series of one-day events in what was his third day of racing in 2014. This time round, Kwiatkowski says his start to the season will be steadier, with the aim being to peak for longer and later in the year.

“I am trying to stay calmer. I was in my best shape at the beginning of the season and I was competitive right from the start in 2014,” the Pole told reporters at the Etixx-Quick Step media day in Spain. “It was maybe a little too much when you look at the year overall. This time, I’ll be taking it a little easier.”

“As always I took a five-week break, and I used the time to be available to the media, but November 10th was when I started training again. I think I’ve done more kilometres than last year and everything went well.”

He will start his first full season as World Champion in the Tour de San Luis in Argentina, but he is careful to insist that he will not be going to South America with all guns blazing. He last took part in the race “a few years ago [in 2013-Ed., finishing 12th], and it’s good to start there. The weather is always good there, too

“But I don’t think I’ll be aiming for something big.”

Following another race he knows well, the Tour of the Algarve, which he finished second in 2013 and won overall in 2014, Kwiatkowski will then change approach paths for both the Classics and the middle segment of his season.

The first change will be missing out on Tirreno-Adriatico - which he led for two stages, mid-race, after a strong ride through the mountains in 2013 and where he finished 18th in 2014 - for Paris-Nice prior to racing Milan-San Remo. Equally, he will switch from the Criterium du Dauphiné to the Tour de Suisse prior to the Tour de France.

“The last few years I haven’t even been able to finish San Remo,” he reflected, and “hopefully that little change will help me to recover better in time for it.” Another familiar race, the Vuelta al País Vasco, where he was second overall in 2014 will precede another run at the Ardennes Classics. Kwiatkowski was one of the most consistent racers in 2014, finishing fifth in Amstel, third in Fleche Wallonne and third in Liege-Bastogne-Liege - but rather than hitting the goalposts so strongly, this time round he wants to score another major triumph in the rainbow jersey.

In 2014, the Tour de France was one of the few areas where Kwiatkowski failed to impact as he would have liked after his 11th place overall and long spell in the Best Young Riders jersey in 2013. “It’s still a learning process but it’s going to be incredible racing there in the rainbow jersey,” Kwiatkowski says rather cautiously. “I’m looking at that first week, and those nine stages are going to be like a Classic every day. I don’t know what I can do there, but I will try to be in the best shape possible.”

He will therefore, race the Tour de Suisse rather than the more demanding Criterium du Dauphine, which he did in 2013 and 2014, “because it will give more time for training.”

If he could choose one dream race, he says, to win clad in the rainbow jersey, it is, he says, “hard to know.” He then plumps for the World Championships, but then realises “of course that’s a dream, but I wouldn’t be wearing the rainbow jersey. Either way, I know defending a title is very difficult, in 2013 I had the national title but it didn’t work out in 2014.”

The added glory of the rainbow jersey adds to the pressure, he recognises, but it doesn’t seem to trouble him too much. “I never attack in the beginning of the races anyway so when I do, it’s going to be in the moment when it’s not a surprise. When you try to win the race, it is always the hardest part.”

“Of course I know that pressure is on me to be up there in the races, but at the end of the day, trying to be a better person and a better rider, that’s my motivation. It’s nice to be a World Champion, but just trying to be a better rider, that’s what motivates me. I hope that’s enough for every race in 2015.”

With the first road-racing rainbow jersey in the country's history thanks to Kwiatkowski, Polish cycling is living through one of its best ever eras, too. Kwiatkowski himself hopes to act as an inspiration for future generations, partly as a racer of course, but partly in a very practical way, thanks to the cycling academy he has set up in his hometown.

“There are 120 kids there now,” he says proudly, “and we’re getting more and more new riders in the WorldTour team too. Let’s hope [Polish cycling] gets bigger and bigger.”

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Alasdair Fotheringham

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 IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.