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After third in Huy, young Kwiatkowski ready for the Liege finale

HUY, Belgium (VN) — Michal Kwiatkowski walked quietly and confidently this afternoon to meet the press. After 199 kilometers and 4.5 hours, the 23-year-old rode to third place in the Flèche Wallonne — his best result so far in a big classic.

“I rode smartly,” Kwiatkowski said in a press conference. “If I began the Mur de Huy too far behind, then for sure, I wouldn’t have finished third.”

The sun lit up his white and red Polish national champion’s jersey with the name of his team’s sponsors, Omega Pharma-Quick Step, as he made his way to the press conference. A half hour prior and on the steep, 26-percent ramps up from Huy, he fought for the win with seasoned professional Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

Valverde won and Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp), the reigning Liège–Bastogne–Liège champion, slipped by for second place. Kwiatkowski, though, held off the rest of his rivals for third.

He rolled over the line four seconds after Valverde, who served a doping ban but has also won the Vuelta a España and two editions of Liège. The other riders were scattered much further down the road. The last placed rider, Fabio Felline (Trek Factory Racing), finished 10:22 back. Some, like Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), crashed and 2012 Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin) abandoned.

The soft-spoken Kwiatkowski finished fifth last year behind winner Daniel Moreno (Katusha). Omega Pharma’s tactics, he explained, helped him move closer to the win on Wednesday.

“I lost position on two corners last year. I had good legs, but I couldn’t finish on the podium. It’s about tactics,” he said. “This time, I was relaxed in the peloton. I was just waiting for the last climb.”

Though he has yet to land a major classics victory, Kwiatkowski already knows what it’s like to win. This spring, he won the Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana and Strade Bianche one-day races. He also took two stages en route to the Volta ao Algarve title in February.

Tirreno-Adriatico went poorly for him in March, but he was able to back off and recover for the Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) one month later, where he finished second behind Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).

In the Amstel Gold Race three days ago, he placed fourth behind Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) and explained that his rest ahead of País Vasco, and his participation in that race instead of the cobbled classics, helped ahead of the Ardennes races.

“I took a different path,” he said. “Strade Bianche was the first check up before the Ardennes classics. I preformed well in Tirreno-Adriatico, but I didn’t finish it well.

“I knew, however, that I had two more weeks to train and I was back in form for País Vasco. The path that I decided on this year was way better than last year.”

Along with Gilbert, the top three from Flèche Wallonne — Valverde, Martin and Kwiatkowski — are considered the favorites to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday. At just 23, Kwiatkowski is punching above his age, but the Omega Pharma man said Wednesday he would be ready come Sunday’s finale.

“It’s not as though my confidence is higher because of Amstel and Flèche,” he said. “I was confident last year, as well, but I couldn’t get a result because I was too tired in the end. Now, though, with the different path that I took, I’m going to be ready to win.