Tour de France 2020

Kwiatkowski eyes yellow in the first week

If world champion Michal Kwiatkowski can stay close to the lead through the opening time trial, he could take yellow on the Mur de Huy

UTRECHT, Netherlands (VN) — Michal Kwiatkowski leans on the windowsill of a small, dark room in his team’s Dutch hotel and looks over at the bike he came downstairs for. It’s speckled with flowery rainbows, a collaboration with his sponsor Specialized. The design is a play on his surname, which translates to “flowery” in Polish, and his position as the reigning world champion.

“I’m not sure another rider could ride this paint job,” he said, smiling. “They started calling me ‘Flower Power;’ I think it’s funny.”

This is Kwiatkowski. Relaxed, calm, always smiling, fond of a joke, even as the biggest race of the year, a race that could very well see him swap out that flowery rainbow bike for a yellow one, quickly approaches.

If Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick-Step) can stay within striking distance of the world’s top time trialists in Saturday’s 13.8-kilometer test, he believes he can take the Tour’s yellow jersey in the first week.

The reigning world road champion, speaking with VeloNews at his team hotel near the start city of Utrecht, expressed confidence in his ability to take time in stage 3, which finishes on the Mur de Huy, the same steep climb used in Flèche Wallone each year.

“Of course it’s a big chance to be up there for me on the GC in the first week,” said the young Polish rider. “It’s all about how we ride [the] first TT and of course the uphill finish in Mur de Huy.”

The first week suits Kwiatkowski well. He has a strong team for the echelons of the Netherlands and the cobbles of northern France, and can take care of himself on the Mur.

“I’m one of the riders who likes to fight every single day, so it’s totally possible,” he said of taking the leader’s yellow jersey. “But, of course, as a team we always want to be winning stages.”

That means he’ll go all-in for teammate Mark Cavendish on the early flat finishes.

On the Mur, Kwiatkowski will need to contend with his own archetype — riders like Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin), and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) — as well as the time trial stars. If a rider like Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), clearly on form after finishing on the podium at the Tour de Suisse, can take enough time on the opening TT, there may be nothing Kwiatkowski can do on the relatively short Mur.

Making his mission doubly difficult, the opening time trial doesn’t suit the young Polish rider, he said. It’s not tricky enough, or hilly enough, to match his punchy style.

“It’s flat with not so many corners. I like it technical, but of course it’s all about your shape and performance,” he said of the opening time trial. “In Suisse and in nationals, I didn’t feel so great, so [it’s difficult] to say I will be able to compete I with the best guys like Tom Dumoulin and the others. But I’m really motivated and I’m in better shape than last year.”

How much time can he lose to a rider like Dumoulin, or his own teammate Tony Martin, to stay within striking distance of yellow? Kwiatkowski isn’t sure. More than 30 seconds lost, though, would make his task nearly impossible.

“Sometimes 10 seconds is a lot, but you can lose everything with a flat tire or a being dropped on the wind, you know, the crosswinds,” he said. “It’s hard to say, everything can be open. You try not to lose, let’s say, 30 seconds on the first stage.”

If he can keep himself in that window, that flower bike might just take on a distinct flavor of maillot jaune.