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Michal Kwiatkowski says he’s getting better, but still has much to learn

VALKENBURG, Netherlands (VN) — Michal Kwiatkowski placed fifth in the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday but finished as the most promising rider. At 23, he is four years younger than his next youngest rival from the top 10, and shows potential for the Ardennes classics to come.

“There’s so much to learn and I’m still taking it all in,” Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Polish rider said. “Philippe Gilbert won the race with a solo move and was impressive, but I saw ways that I can do a little bit better. I’m happy about my condition and I’m going to keep on going into the season, which only just began.”

He could sit on the steps of the bus in his gray hooded sweatshirt without a worry. He has already won five times this season, including the Volta ao Algarve overall. In the Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) last week, he won the points classification and placed second on GC.

País Vasco marked a different approach compared to last year, when he rode the cobbled classics ahead of the Ardennes. He said his fifth place on Sunday confirmed that the team was correct to re-schedule his calendar to include the traditional Ardennes lead-up.

In fact, Kwiatkowski could not find much to complain about. Though he finished one spot worse than last year — when he was one spot ahead of Gilbert — he said he felt better and the team rode strongly.

“We rode the whole course well, we stayed at the front and we had Zdenek Stybar in the break. Michal Golas was very impressive today, he was able to chase down the break, he was still with me at the bottom of the Cauberg,” Kwiatkowski said.

“I’m happy that I placed fifth because I improved from last year, I made a better start to the Cauberg and I could follow guys. Last year, I just stayed put and tried to sprint.”

An attack by Gilbert’s teammate Samuel Sánchez drew Kwiatkowski out. He was able to follow Sánchez, but had little left in his tank when Gilbert went with 2.5km remaining.

“It would’ve better to be on Gilbert’s wheel, he has so much experience. It would’ve been easier, but I started behind Golas on the Cauberg and was thinking, ‘Why wait? It’ll be just a couple of seconds and we’ll be on the top.’ Actually, though, it’s a long way to the top!”

Kwiatkowski paused and thought about what had happened on the road leading from Valkenburg. He began talking about his race plan for 2015.

“If you know the race better, you can save a lot of power,” he said. “I stayed the whole day in the front, but I think that you don’t have to do that. You can stay in the back a little more, but you have to know where and when you can do that.”

The young rider who races in the white-and-red Polish champion’s jersey could strike again in Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday and Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday. The team’s performance director, Rolf Aldag, said that he could win Liège, considered the toughest of the three Ardennes classics.

Win or lose, Kwiatkowski is certain to gain more experience that will help him develop and deliver on his star potential.