ORNANS, France (VN) — Michal Kwiatkowski looks like a nice enough kid.
Or, as his sport director Brian Holm put it, like a little accountant.
“He’s so humble. Off the bike. On the bike, you look at him and think, ‘How can that little humble guy be so greedy on the bike?’ In a bunch sprint? He doesn’t look like Greipel you know. He looks like an accountant making your numbers,” Holm said.
Kwiatkowski was running the numbers on Monday. He flew the rough grasp of a ragged peloton and worked with intrepid teammate Tony Martin to stay away most of the day. He almost beat the numbers, too, only to be caught in the final kilometers of La Planche des Belles Filles. It’s the second time he’s fought hard in this young Tour for a stage win, and overall GC ascension. The 24-year-old Pole just cannot seem to help himself. On Monday, he sat 13th overall, 2:13 back of stage winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
The results won’t indicate his hard ride, nor will the final GC have a note about his puncture on the cobbles that erased him from the Nibali move. The efforts go somewhere, though, somewhere to be drawn from on some other day.
“He’s a complete rider, isn’t he? You saw him on the cobbles. Without that puncture … he would have been up there for sure. He was flying,” Holm said. “He can time trial. He’s one of the better in the time trial. He’s gonna be close in the time trial, trust me. And he can do a bunch sprint, we’ve seen that. He’s like a light version of Bernard Hinault.”
The dynamic Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider didn’t win that big spring classic he was after this season — though he did win Strade Bianche — and yet he may have strung together one of the best classics campaigns of any man this year, top to bottom. In the Ardennes, he finished on two podiums in third position (Liège-Bastogne-Liège, La Flèche Wallonne) and finished fifth at Amstel Gold. He was then peppered with questions about this Tour, but deftly pushed them off. Now that he’s here, he’s riding with a deliberate spark.
“I had a big chance not only to win a stage, but maybe even steal the yellow jersey with this move,” Kwiatkowski said Monday. “But, to do that, you still need to have the legs … But I did the best I could. On the final climb I couldn’t even take my own speed. If I could have, I could have gone pretty quickly. I simply couldn’t keep holding it.”
Not that day, at least. His future is bright, that much the sport has already seen. Garmin-Sharp director Charly Wegelius noted Kwiatkowski for his ability to ride his own race back to the group once dropped.
“He’s impressive because often you see him get dropped. We saw it last year at the Tour, too. You see him get dropped and you think ‘well that’s the end of him,’” Wegelius said. “And he just keeps making his case and he never cracks.”
He did falter on the steeps of the Belles Filles climb after his attack, and maybe that’s another lesson he’ll learn in these weeks and hours on the bike in France. Then again, aggression on the bike seems to be part of his makeup.
“He probably has to relax a little bit. Don’t do everything. Every race he rides for winning,” Holm said. “When he came to the team he wanted to win the cobblestone classics.”
And though he lost the white jersey to Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) he’s just 1:38 back and is sure to keep pressing.
“We never give up, even after the past few days with two stage wins,” he said. “We are always trying to get good results and be active. The team spirit is so great because of that. We are missing Mark Cavendish and still we have already won twice. I believe we can do something more at this race, even if right now I am disappointed with my condition. I know I can look forward to the support of my teammates and the morale will stay high.”