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GHENT, Belgium (VN) — Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) continues to impress. At just 22 years old, following up on a breakthrough ride at Tirreno-Adriatico, the Pole escaped for 100km at the Ronde van Vlaanderen on Sunday.
Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) blew apart the Ronde on the Oude Kwaremont and quickly reeled in the day’s escapees. Kwiatkowski, after a long day on the front, briefly stuck with the stars before sitting up and ending the race 40th.
This was the same Kwiatkowski that rode with the sport’s best climbers — Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, and Vincenzo Nibali — up Tirreno-Adriatico’s summit finish, Prati di Tivo, in March.
Kwiatkowski took the leader’s blue jersey on Prati di Tivo. He cracked the next day in Chieti, but not enough to lose the young rider jersey. He placed fourth overall three days later, behind Nibali, Froome, and Contador.
The team’s Danish sports director, Brian Holm has been impressed. Omega Pharma signed Kwiatkowski ahead of 2012 for his time trial abilities, but he is proving to be a complete rider.
“At first, his time trial strength caught our eye, but then we saw that he really liked the pavé. He loved the Ronde van Vlaanderen,” Holm told French website Velochrono. “He is a very complete rider. He rides the climbs well, he is strong on the flat, he can fight and he even knows how to sprint.”
Omega Pharma’s Tour of Flanders changed drastically when Tom Boonen crashed after only 19km and had to abandon. The team’s attention turned to Niki Terpstra and Sylvain Chavanel, and the young Pole.
“He was impressive if you consider that it was his first Ronde,” team director Wilfried Peeters said in a press release.
“I’m still young, I want to fight everywhere,” Kwiatkowski added. “I did a good job for the team with my situation.”
Class of 1990
Like Slovak sensation Peter Sagan, the Polish Kwiatkowski was also born in 1990; the two used to face off often. In 2008, Sagan won one Nations Cup race, and Kwiatkowski won two. That year, at the junior worlds in Cape Town, South Africa, they both had bad days during the road race. Kwiatkowski, however, picked up the junior world TT title, eight seconds ahead of American Taylor Phinney.
Sagan joined Liquigas, now Cannondale, and immediately tasted WorldTour success, which led to a second place in Ronde Sunday. Prior to signing for the Belgian Omega Pharma team, Kwiatkowski bounced around, from the small Spanish team Caja Rural, to RadioShack.
With Omega Pharma last year, he won the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen prologue, finished his first grand tour, the Giro d’Italia, and placed second in his home tour, the Tour of Poland.
After Flanders, Holm and Omega’s brass are sorting out the rest of Kwiatkowski’s 2013 schedule. It will include another grand tour and a few weeklong stage races, but first are the Ardennes classics – Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
“I’m still young, I don’t know what to expect in grand tours,” Kwiatkowski said during a Tirreno-Adriatico press conference.
“Last year, I was second in the Tour of Poland, it was my main goal,” he said. “I believed in myself, that I could do something in those one-week races. It’s always good to be good in something. I had good time trials last year, but I was weak in climbs. I worked on it in the winter, and it paid off and helped me become a good GC rider.”
He seemingly connected all the dots, and has emerged as both a sturdy one-day rider and a blossoming GC contender.