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Why Kwiatkowski is not defending his E3 Harelbeke title

Former world champ Michal Kwiatkowski opts out of defending E3 Harelbeke title in favor of a race schedule focused on winning Liège.

GENT, Belgium (VN) — Michal Kwiatkowski is trying to avoid spreading himself too thin this 2017 season. The Sky rider who won Milano-Sanremo on Saturday, will miss an E3 Harelbeke title defense Friday so that he can tune his engine for his “dream race,” Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

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The Polish cyclist escaped with world champion Peter Sagan last year and sprinted ahead of him into cycling-mad Harelbeke. However, he is turning his back on the cobbled classics west of Brussels this spring for the one-day races in southern Belgium and the Amstel Gold Race, over the border in the Netherlands. It leaves Sagan, racing for Bora-Hansgrohe, to wear bib number one in E3 Harelbeke.

“I’d like to, but it’s difficult to achieve all the things in your life,” Kwiatkowski said. “The race program this year has me skipping the cobbles and aiming for the Ardennes. It’s a speciality for me, I know I can climb well, time trial well, and do well in those classics.”

He usually parachutes in for one or two cobbled classics. Not since 2014, has he skipped them completely.

In 2014, Kwiatkowski placed third in the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and gave Poland the worlds title. The following spring, he won the Amstel Gold Race.

In those years with Quick-Step, the team and Kwiatkowski experimented in different races. Team boss Patrick Lefevere said in 2015, “I figured it out, he’s not a classification rider.”

Sky worked with Kwiatkowski after it signed him for 2016. Last year, even with the E3 Harelbeke victory, its efforts mostly failed. He fell sick or suffered back problems and abandoned races often.

“There are plenty of reasons,” Kwiatkowski explained after winning Strade Bianche earlier this month. “I had health problems, but I was pushing my limits. I wanted to impress everyone in training and everywhere. I’m not like a machine, sooner or later you pay the bill.”

It led to a re-think and a specialized 2017 program, which is similar to the one he followed in 2014.

After winning Milano-Sanremo, Kwiatkowski backed off and “reset” ahead of the Ardennes. After a two-week race break, he will start in País Vasco on April 3. From there, he will travel to the Ardennes for the Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

“Liège-Bastogne-Liège is a race of my dreams; if I could pick one monument to win, I think it’d be Liège,” Kwiatkowski told Sporza television.

“Now, I have Milano-Sanremo in the pocket, which is great, but now the focus is Liège. I’m sure I can go well if I’m well and not sick. We already won last year with Wout Poels, that was great to be a member of the team and to help him going into victory. I hope this year we’ll have a strong team and be ready to fight again.”

Kwiatkowski’s build does seem adapted to all five monuments. He has not tried Paris-Roubaix, but already placed 27th in Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders).

“I think if I was aiming for Lombardia or Liège, I think I could win them, but Roubaix and Flanders are something different. You need to put all those ambitions apart. I have to specialize.

“I won E3 Harelbeke and I’ve done well in the other races, but to win them you need something special.”