TOURS, France (VN) — His name means “flowers” in Polish, and that’s probably a good start, because Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Michal Kwiatkowski will be handling bouquets for a long time.
The 23-year-old holds the Tour de France’s maillot blanc, awarded to the best-placed rider 25 years or under. As of stage 12 into Tours, Kwiatkowski held the jersey by 34 seconds over Nairo Quintana (Movistar). The competition falls off a cliff after the Colombian, with third-placed Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) more than six minutes off the pace. Americans Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), last year’s winner, are 8:27 and 33:24 back, respectively. Kwiatkowski is seventh overall.
Omega Pharma came to this Tour de France loaded for mercurial sprint king and British national road champion Mark Cavendish, but Kwiatkowski, the current Polish road race champion, has surprised with his consistent performance thus far. On Wednesday, he finished fifth in the time trial, and took the jersey off the lithe shoulders of Quintana.
“I took the white jersey again,” he said after his performance, just 1:31 back of winning teammate Tony Martin. Asked if he can hold the jersey to Paris, he was cautiously optimistic, and pointed to Cavendish’s pursuits as well as his own.
“We will see,” he said. “I mean, day by day … I will not give up. I will try to stay with the best as long as possible. … Of course it would be nice to stay in the GC, but I take it day by day for sure. We’re going to keep working the flat stages for Mark … if I lose my position in the GC, I can gain experience.”
Kwiatkowski has earned white through his remarkable all-round abilities. He’s got a good kick (third in stage 2 and fourth in stage 3, both reduced bunch gallops). He’s got good climbing legs, finishing third on stage 9 in the Pyrénées. He lost most of his time in the general classification battle when he finished 20th, at 3:27, behind winner Chris Froome (Sky) up Ax 3 Domaines on Saturday.
Quintana will test the Polish champ’s hold on white in the Tour’s final week, which includes three days in the Alps (including two trips up Alpe d’Huez) and an ascent of the hallowed Mont Ventoux.
Kwiatkowski will be up to fighting for white all the way to the nighttime ride into Paris. His 2013 indicates as much. He finished second at the Volta ao Algrave, fourth at Tirreno-Adriatico, and top five at the Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne. His future will include plenty of bouquets. On top of all that, Kwiatkowski burst onto radars around the world when he rode a 100km solo breakaway at the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders). He truly is an all-rounder.
As far as his limits, Kwiatkowski isn’t even sure.
“I still don’t know,” he said. “I want to improve everywhere, and stay in peak performance … I think this Tour de France gave me a lot, and I will come out stronger…. hopefully it’s a big step, and a big step in my career.
“I’m very happy with it.”