As Michal Kwiatkowski sits back to reflect upon what he describes as an ‘amazing’ 2017 ahead of his final race of the season, Saturday’s Il Lombardia, he keeps coming back to four main performances: his wins at Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo, his strength at the Ardennes, and his ride in support of Chris Froome at the Tour de France.
And yet, at the end of such a sensational 2017, it’s easy to forget that 2016 wasn’t so easy for the popular Pole.
Injury and illness restricted Kwiatkowski and, although his class still shone through on occasion, it was a tough first season in Team Sky colours. What changed?
“I had amazing support from the team during the winter and I was… maybe not confident, but I had my wings back during training,” he explains. “I started to believe. But winning San Remo was a bit unexpected, as was performing for three weeks at the Tour.
“Looking back to January I did everything I could, but you can never predict these things. I’m so happy it turned out this well.”
I had amazing support from the team during the winter and I was… maybe not confident, but I had my wings back during training.
“I was always in the game to win the races,” he continues. “That’s what I expect. We all know how sport is - there are so many guys fighting for victory and the most important thing is we were always there - at the races I won, Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo, but also those we lost, like in the Ardennes.
“I was there, fighting for the victory – I just missed that little something to win. That will keep me hungry for next season.”
Being good for so long has slowly started to take its toll on Kwiato and as the conversation turns to this weekend he’s honest about his chances: “I would love to do Lombardia well, but the season has been very long. For sure, we will be up there as a team and we will try to do our best to win the race.
“Even if I am not there for the victory I know I can do a lot of work for some of the other guys. We will see how the race goes. It’s the last Monument and of course I would love to do it well, but if any of my teammates can win it then we will go for it.
“That’s the strength of our team - we can play a few cards in these races. Let’s hope a Team Sky jersey will be on the top step of the podium.
“It’s been a very long year. The longest period for me was my preparation for the worlds. I skipped a little bit of racing to try to freshen up after the Tour and I was really motivated to do well in Bergen.
“We did pretty well in the team time trial [Team Sky finished third], but I missed a medal and the position I wanted in the road race [Kwiato finished 11th]. So that was quite a long period and is maybe why I’m not feeling 100% now.”
"If there are any signs that I can progress with those two aspects while not losing my ability to sprint and fight in the wind, then I would like to try.
“I’ve never had the opportunity to ride for such a big team aiming to win a Grand Tour. It was something I will never forget. Racing every day, trying not to lose time, fighting until Paris; it was a great experience. I didn’t expect my body to be able to do it so well for three weeks, so that was something new to me. I hope I can do it again!”
With that ride in the bank, has the idea of leading a Grand Tour team started to appeal?
“Of course performing for three weeks as I did gives you a little bit of hope, but to win a Grand Tour you need to be good at time trialling and super good with climbing.
“If there are any signs that I can progress with those two aspects while not losing my ability to sprint and fight in the wind, then I would like to try… First maybe at a stage race like the Dauphine or Paris-Nice, then if the opportunity comes along for sure I would like to look at leading a Grand Tour in the future - just like G has done.
“He’s taken a similar path to me and this year [at the Giro] he was unlucky, but for sure he would have been up there to fight for the GC. He made lots of little steps to prove himself as a leader for a Grand Tour.”
For now though, Kwiatkowski’s early goals remain broadly the same for 2018: “I like the way I was racing and training this year - for sure there will be some small changes, but at the end of the day I would love to do well in the Ardennes, race at the Tour - and target the world championships. That’s always a big goal.”
Get ready for more of the same from Kwiato.