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Sky’s classics group looks strong with Kwiatkowski

The British team will rely on the Polish rider in the one-day races next year, with hopes he'll snag at least one victory.

MILAN (VN) — Sky’s classics group is stronger than ever heading into 2016 with the addition of former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski, says sport director Servais Knaven.

Sky announced in September it signed the 25-year-old Pole. Kwiatkowski raced the last four years for Etixx-Quick-Step and won the 2014 worlds in Ponferrada, Spain. He will form part of Sky’s front for the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and the Ardennes classics in April.

He comes in at the right time, with Geraint Thomas — who won E3 Harelbeke and placed third in Gent-Wevelgem this year — turning his attention to stage racing.

“Of course, with Kwiatkowski, we have someone who won the Amstel Gold Race,” Knaven told VeloNews.

“He knows how to do it! He has the talent. He was world champion, he’s one of the only riders in the team who’s won a big one-day race in the past. That doesn’t mean he’s going to win again next year, but he has the potential. That’s good for the whole group in my eyes.”

Knaven won Paris-Roubaix in 2001 and took the role as Sky’s head director for the classics. The Dutchman’s group includes several developing stars like Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe, and Thomas. Stannard won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad the last two years. This spring, he was up against three Etixx riders in the winning escape group and still came away with his second trophy.

Even with Thomas turning his attention to the Tour de France, Knaven said his team’s chances of winning one of the big one-day races from Milano-Sanremo to Liège-Bastogne-Liège are just as good. Kwiatkowski’s victories at the 2014 worlds and the 2015 Amstel Gold Race could help inject some winning “experience” into Sky’s classics team.

“The guys can learn from him and talk about it,” added Knaven. “It’s good to have someone with that experience in the team. It’s good to have him with us. I think he’s one of the strongest riders in the whole peloton.”

The schedules still have to be set in stone, but Kwiatkowski could race Sanremo, Ronde, and all three Ardennes classics from March 19 to April 24. Sky has not said it, but it appears the British team agrees with Etixx general manager Patrick Lefevere in that his focus should be on winning classics — not a stage race.

“I’ve figured it out, he’s not a classification rider,” Lefevere told VeloNews in July. “Only the best can be competitive for a long season. [Vincenzo] Nibali did it in the Tour of Oman, performed well in the Tour … But the level is so high in the Tour that every mistake you pay cash.”

Sky, of course, is not short on grand tour cyclists with Chris Froome, winner of the 2013 and 2015 Tours, Mikel Landa, and now Thomas. Kwiatkowski may learn from them, but his job for 2016 will be to lead Sky’s team in many of the one-day classics.