QUEBEC CITY (VN) — While the likes of Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) are getting plenty of hype ahead of the Richmond world championships, one rider is flying surprisingly under the radar these days: the 25-year-old from Poland who currently owns the rainbow jersey, Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick-Step).
There’s some logic to the lack of buzz surrounding the reigning world champ. The Richmond course doesn’t particularly suit him, with less climbing than last year’s route. What’s more, he has not exactly been lighting it up recently.
Kwiatkowski got his season in the rainbow stripes off to a good start with runner-up performances in the Volta ao Algarve and Paris-Nice, and opened his victory account early by winning the Paris-Nice prologue. A win at the Amstel Gold Race seemed to prefigure a dominant year as the reigning road world champion.
It’s all been downhill from there.
Forgettable Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège performances were perhaps forgotten in the excitement of teammate/wunderkind Julian Alaphilippe taking second place in both races. But as the season has progressed since the spring, things haven’t gotten any better for Kwiatkowski.
He was an also-ran in the Tour de Suisse, and he rode for Etixx teammate Michal Golas in the Polish national championships. Still, he approached the Tour de France, a top priority of his season, with high hopes.
A 24th-place finish on stage 2 was the best result he was able to muster before abandoning in Stage 17.
He was a DNF at the Tour of Poland as well. Frustrated by his lack of form, Kwiatkowski decided to take a break from competition to train, hoping to figure out his issues before the last few races of the season.
A little over a month later, with a bit of racing back in his legs now after riding the Brussels Cycling Classic and GP de Fourmies last week in support of Tom Boonen, he feeling a bit more positive about his form.
“The feeling of training is completely different from racing, but actually the sensations in the legs last weekend were optimistic so I can look forward to upcoming races. I trained in August really hard,” Kwiatkowski told VeloNews from Québec, where he will race Friday’s Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec.
“I didn’t have much of a break after the Tour because I raced again in the Tour of Poland and then straight after I went to altitude training camp in Livigno for 16 days, where I was super-motivated because I knew that something was going wrong. The shape was not what I would expect in July. So I hope I will be good again.”
Kwiatkowski has plenty of reason to be optimistic. The summer of 2014 was perhaps not as much a disappointment for Kwiatkowski as this year’s has been, but he did not rack up many results between May and August that year either. Nevertheless, he kicked off September 2014 with a stage win and a second overall in the Tour of Britain en route to his worlds victory. He is looking to replicate that sort of late-season success once more this year.
Ahead of his title defense, Kwiatkowski is again eschewing the Vuelta a España, the traditional tune-up race for rainbow jersey hopefuls, for an alternative buildup schedule, this time by riding in the Canadian GPs.
“I think that the key thing here is the time zone,” Kwiatkowski said. “I don’t have much experience with the jet lag, which I discovered in 2013 — I had a lot of trouble with that here in Canada. Six hours. Phew. That’s a lot. I think that’s the best way, to stay here in Canada and then have a short travel to worlds. For me it’s the best way to prepare. I did the Tour, I did Tour of Poland, so I didn’t need a lot of races, and let’s hope that’s the best thing.”
Kwiatkowski says he is fully focused on fine-tuning his rainbow jersey form right now, though strong results in Friday’s GP Québec and then Sunday’s GP Montréal would be ideal. From Montréal, he will head to Richmond, where he will contribute to Etixx’s effort to win the team time trial championship before taking several days to prepare himself for a title defense. Although he is very good in the individual time trial, Kwiatkowski won’t take part in the ITT at worlds: just as he did last year, he’s putting everything he has into the road race.
“It’s all for the road,” Kwiatkowski said. “It worked out last year, just with the team time trial, and then six days to recover, it’s perfect for me to have good feeling on Sunday. Let’s hope that’s enough this year as well.”
As for the course that might not appear to be quite his style? Richmond does not have the same hard climbs as last year’s route in Ponferrada, Spain, but just as he is optimistic about a late-season return to form, Kwiatkowski is also looking on the bright side when it comes to the Richmond parcours.
“It’s still hilly and it’s a classic, so anything can happen,” he said. “It depends on the riders, how the peloton wants to play it, how the favorites want to play it. I still haven’t seen the course on my own, but I will have almost two weeks to check out every key moment. It’s all in our hands.”