Here’s a question. Who is currently Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s highest-placed rider on GC? The answer: Michal Kwiatkowski, who is fifth overall and wearing the white jersey of the best young rider. You may not have heard of him before this Tour de France. You’re going to be hearing a lot more of him in the coming years.
Who is he?
The 23-year-old Pole is in his fourth season as a pro, having started out with Spanish squad Caja Rural in 2010 before moving to RadioShack the following year and joining OPQS last term. He’s the last of an outstanding crop of four riders all born in the first half of 1990 to emerge into the spotlight – given that the other three are Peter Sagan, Taylor Phinney and Nairo Quintana, there’s no shame in that.
Indeed, he competed – and won – against both Sagan and Phinney at junior level. In 2008, he won two races to Sagan’s one in the under-23 Nations Cup, then went on to win the under-23 world time trial title in Cape Town (Phinney was third).
At first, his time trial strength caught our eye, but then we saw that he really liked the pavé. He loved the Ronde van Vlaanderen.
He is a very complete rider. He rides the climbs well, he is strong on the flat, he can fight and he even knows how to sprint.
OPQS directeur Sportif Brian Holm
Kwiatkowski’s specialism is individual time trials, a discipline in which he has achieved a string of solid results this year. He was second behind teammate and reigning world champion Tony Martin at the Volta ao Algarve, eighth at Tirreno-Adriatico and fifth at the Critérium du Dauphiné (ahead of Richie Porte, Marco Pinotti and Geraint Thomas).
However, he has also started to display the kind of versatility that suggests he could quickly become a top classics rider or even a stage race contender. During this spring’s classics he showed an aptitude for the cobbles and hills: he was in the main breakaway at the Tour of Flanders before recording two top-fives in Ardennes week (fourth in Amstel Gold, fifth at Flèche Wallonne). And he has also proven competitive in week-long races: last year he was second overall at his home Tour of Poland, while this year he was second at the Volta ao Algarve and fourth at Tirreno-Adriatico. He’s also the reigning Polish road race champion.
What has he done at the Tour so far?
This Tour de France is only his second grand tour appearance – he started and finished the 2012 Giro strongly enough to come 12th in the final stage time trial – and he has already made quite an impression, particularly on the lumpier stages.
He took the white jersey on stage two, won by Jan Bakelants, finishing third as only Sagan bested him in the peloton sprint. He was fourth the following day, holding classics hard men Philippe Gilbert and Juan Antonio Flecha at bay. And on yesterday’s stage to Albi he was again fourth thanks to a strong sprint at the finish.
Kwiatkowski is a powerful rider who can time trial, climb and has a more than decent sprint on him. He may not possess Sagan’s unique combination of speed and power, he may not be quite the world-class time-trialist that Phinney already is and he doesn’t have the acceleration of Quintana on the steep climbs – but of the four he might eventually end up being the most consistent and durable GC rider over a three-week grand tour.
Here and now, he will almost certainly have to relinquish the white jersey in the high mountains to riders such as Quintana and Tejay van Garderen, but a top-20 finish is certainly an achievable target. In future years, who knows? Watch this space.