Omega Pharma’s new Polish star is finding his place in the Ardennes

He's led a major stage race, attacked the Tour of Flanders, and finished top-five twice in the Ardennes, and Michal Kwiatkowski is searching for his spot

GHENT, Belgium (VN) — Young Pole Michal Kwiatkowski keeps improving and his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team is leading a chorus of observers putting big faith in the 23-year-old from Dzialyn. After a strong run from Tirreno-Adriatico to the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), he has scored two top fives in the opening rounds of the Ardennes classics.

Attention fell immediately on Daniel Moreno (Katusha) when he won Flèche Wallonne yesterday. The Colombians behind and even Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) had their share. Riding away and towards his team bus, though, Kwiatkowski might have been the most newsworthy story of the day.

“We are truly happy with him,” director Davide Bramati told VeloNews. “And happy with how the team has rallied behind him and lent all of its support.”

Kwiatkowski pipped last year’s winner, Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha), and placed just behind Martin in fifth place. With fourth in the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, Kwiatkowski has been the most consistent rider over the first two of three hilly classics.

In Amstel Gold, thanks to Omega Pharma and his raw talent, he was positioned behind the Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) train on the Cauberg climb. He was unable to follow when Gilbert attacked and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) chased, but, showing experience beyond his years, he remained calm and persisted. When a large chase group brought the trio back at the line, Kwiatkowski edged Gilbert, finishing fourth behind Gerrans.

“I’m happy I was able to get a good result in Amstel Gold because after Flanders I was like … I was home in Poland for four days resting and then in Granada [Spain] training with my teammates. I was happy to be fine, even if not fresh,” Kwiatkowski told VeloNews ahead of Flèche Wallonne. “I paid on the Cauberg, but I knew I could do a sprint, so I tried to remain calm. Then, in Flèche, I’m not explosive, so it’s not possible to win. I can play different cards, though.”

Looking ahead

Kwiatkowski won the junior world time trial title in 2008, raced with RadioShack and last year Omega Pharma, but only truly hit the headlines in March at Tirreno-Adriatico. On the race’s queen stage, the summit finish to Prati di Tivo, he rode ahead with Chris Froome (Sky), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), and Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) — all grand tour greats — and into the race lead. He lost it three days later, but won respect and the young riders’ classification.

The cycling world may have thought it had seen the last of the Pole, but he popped up again in Ronde van Vlaanderen. He escaped for about 100 kilometers and briefly held on when Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) blew the race apart on the Oude Kwaremont.

After a break, he proved once again that he is not just a flash in the pan. Kwiatkowski and the team are now wondering just what his specialty is.

“We are trying things out with him in all sorts of terrain to decide what’s best for him. He’s young, though, he’s not even 23 years old yet,” Bramati said. “Everyone saw him in Flanders, where he just missed out staying with them on the Kwaremont. This season in the classics was important to gain experience. We brought him here last year and I think that experience has paid off. … To always be there in the top five is already like a victory for us.”

One year ago, Kwiatkowski didn’t finish any of the three hilly classics he started. He has come a long way in 12 months, but knows there is still much to learn.

“I’m young, I want to gain experience everywhere,” Kwiatkowski said. “After the Ardennes, I’ll re-think my goals for this year and the next two years. I needed to decide where I’m good. I think I’ll be able to decide between stage races and classics.”

Those two years will carry out with Omega Pharma. Team boss Patrick Lefevere confirmed to VeloNews this week that he had signed Kwiatkowski to a contract extension last year, midway into his initial two-year deal.

Everyone is considering what he is capable of, but for now, Kwiatkowski is keeping his head down and is focused on his final race of an early-season block, Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège.