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Poland powers Kwiatkowski to rainbow jersey

The 24-year-old catapults to victory in the road race thanks to his teammates' efforts

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PONFERRADA, Spain (VN) — Poland rallied behind its leader Michal Kwiatkowski on Sunday at the UCI Road World Championships, as the 24-year-old soloed free to hold off cycling’s elite to win the elite men’s road race thanks to his countrymen’s effort.

“In the beginning, we were thinking, ‘What are those Polish guys doing?'” Belgian and 2012 winner Philippe Gilbert said.

“We knew about Kwiatkowski, but everyone was wondering, ‘What tactic is this?’ They have nine riders, but only five race in first division teams.”

Poland took charge soon after an early escape rode free in the 254.8-kilometer race and did not surrender control until Italy moved into the driver’s seat with 80km remaining. The squad raced with nine cyclists, the maximum allowance, thanks to its success in 2014.

This year with trade team Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Kwiatkowski won Strade Bianche, Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana, two stages and the overall at the Volta ao Algarve, a stage at the Tour of Britain, and the Tour de Romandie prologue time trial. He placed second overall in the Tour of Britain and the Vuelta al Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country), and was third in Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Poland’s gains this season, however, also came thanks to the efforts of other riders.

Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) won two stages and the mountains competition in the Tour de France and the overall at the Tour of Poland, while Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) won a stage in the Vuelta a España.

Kwiatkowski found motivation in the team’s numbers. He may have fallen short in the Ardennes classics and the Tour de France, but with Poland he rode into the rainbow jersey.

“We believed from the start that we had one of the favorites and we wanted to take some initiative to give extra motivation to Michal,” Pole and Omega Pharma teammate Michal Golas told VeloNews.

“We know that Michal is in great shape. When the team works so hard it gives extra motivation to its leader.”

Golas celebrated inside the team’s orange team bus, which was borrowed from second division home team CCC Polstat. Poland raced with two riders from that team — Maciej Paterski and Bartlomiej Matysiak — along with Bartosz Huzarski (NetApp-Endura), Michal Podlaski (ActiveJet), and five from UCI ProTeams: Kwiatkowski, Golas, Niemiec, Maciej Bodnar (Cannondale), and Pawel Poljanski (Tinkoff).

“We had nine guys in the front,” Golas said. “Two guys were working, but no one gave us help, so we put three more there and had five guys pulling. We saved Maciej Paterski and me for the last laps to position Michal well.

“Just before the descent, he told me to go full gas and take him to the corner. I did, and he knew what to do after that.”

Kwiatkowski attacked with about 7.5km remaining, on the Confederacion descent, and he rode solo up to and past an early escape. He pushed himself over the final kilometers, but Poland gave him the base to launch his missile towards the Ponferrada line.

“They supported me the whole day,” Kwiatkowski said. “With the weather, it was important to stay at the front. I could believe in myself with that sort of team support from my mates.”