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Kwiatkowski last raced here in 2016, when he made the winning move but was working in the services of Team Sky teammate Geraint Thomas.
“It’s one of the nicest classics of the season, the biggest one in Flanders and I think everyone as a rider loves to race here,” Kwiatkowski said. “This is the race to be in and luckily I could put this in my race calendar, and I’m happy to be here.”
In 2016, the Pole had won the E3 Harelbeke a week beforehand but began the 250-kilometer monument as a simple helper to the team’s star. He did not think that when he attacked after the Taaienberg climb that he would create the winning move, but he did.
“Of course, in that moment when I launched my move, I thought that I should go earlier because Geraint was the main leader at that time. I overestimated my possibilities and the possibilities of Peter Sagan at that time. It was a strange move,” he continued.
“If I could do it again, I think, I’d try to save more energy. It was a different sort of race that year as a favorite after winning Harelbeke. It was completely different from my past experience racing for Quick Step as a supporting rider.”
Sagan followed and then dropped Kwiatkowski on the Oude Kwaremont and kept going to Oudenaarde to win the race in his rainbow jersey.
Kwiatkowski returned stronger in 2017, won Strade Bianche and Milano-Sanremo, but skipped the cobbled classics with an eye on the Ardennes classics and being a star helper to Chris Froome in the Tour.
Kwiatkowski won the Volta ao Algarve and Tirreno-Adriatico this 2018 season and after Milano-Sanremo, trained at home on the Côte d’Azur. He comes to Flanders two weeks later to start a block that includes the País Vasco stage race starting on Monday, and the Ardennes classics afterward.
He begins as a favorite despite not racing the lead-up races E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, and Dwars door Vlaanderen. Marquee cobblestone stars Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and 2017 Flanders winner Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) were all at the past week’s races in Belgium.
“I have no regrets that I was not racing those races. From what I saw, there wasn’t any rider who could smash any of those races completely. I might be wrong, but most of the guys were on a very similar level,” he added.
“You have to be very careful in using your strength and energy in these races. I was happy to do my last few sessions of training to be ready to race again.”
“Definitely, I’d give Quick-Step a five-star rating, and the rest of the guys Sagan or Greg Van Avermaet or Benoot … Maybe they would deserve four!” Kwiatkowski continued.
“For sure, Quick-Step play a really big role and have won so many classics by using the team’s strength, and they’ll try to do it again in Flanders.”
Sky lines up with stars Ian Stannard, Gianni Moscon and new signee Dylan Van Baarle, fourth in 2017 with Cannondale-Drapac.
“It’s going to be hard to fight against those other riders, but we have to use our possibilities, our good strong line up with Dylan, Moscon, Stannard,” said Kwiatkowski.
“We are ready and we need to be committed to do everything possible to win.”