Michal Kwiatkowski’s emphatic E3 Harelbeke victory isn’t his biggest. Certainly the 2014 world championships stays at the top of his list, but the win in Belgium boosted the Sky rider into a new realm — few cyclists today are as versatile as the 25-year-old. Kwiatkowski is the first in recent memory to claim victory in both the Ardennes hills and the Flanders hellingen.
With wins in Strade Bianche and the Volta ao Algarve overall in 2014, preludes to his rainbow run, Kwiatkowski announced himself as a top talent. He confirmed that in 2015’s first Ardennes classic, winning Amstel Gold Race in the rainbow jersey.
The last rider to win both Ardennes and Flanders classics was the troubled Belgian Frank Vandenbroucke, who won Scheldeprijs in 1996 and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 1999. Philippe Gilbert, also an Ardennes champion, has won twice at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but that race is not ordinarily lumped in with the Flanders classics that span from Dwars door Vlaanderen through Paris-Roubaix (at least in the modern schedule).
For comparison, E3 features 15 cobbled bergs, including the Taaienberg, Paterberg, and Oude Kwaremont, while Omloop and Dwars have generally featured more sprinter-friendly courses in recent years (thirteen hills in Omloop, and none in Scheldeprijs this year).
Kwiatkowski obviously benefitted from the punchy climbs, but Friday’s success can also be attributed to some canny teamwork by Sky, placing Ian Stannard in the chase.
“I was really motivated today, and I did my best. I was perfectly protected by my teammates; Ian Stannard was always there for me and then me and Peter worked together well,” Kwiatkowski explained.
When it comes to teamwork, don’t forget that four Etixx – Quick-Step riders were chasing Kwaitkowski and Sagan for about 30 kilometers and couldn’t bring the current and former world champs back. The two are on fine form ahead of the spring’s biggest races.
E3 is often considered a preview of Belgium’s most prominent classic, Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), and Kwiatkowski’s win surely adds his name to the list of favorites for the monument on April 3. Friday’s classic, now a WorldTour race, is actually a good predictor of Flanders success. Fabian Cancellara won both in 2010 and 2013, as did Boonen in 2005, 2006, and 2012. Even over a decade ago, Johan Museeuw and Peter Van Petegem did the double in 1998 and 1999, respectively.
Who would have though that the slightly built man from Poland, often pegged as a specialist for hilly one-days would be a factor in some of the spring’s toughest cobbled classics? He’ll have ample support in eight days’ time as both he and his Sky outfit aim for their first monument victory.