UCI Road World Championships 2017 Bergen: Kwiatkowski, Sagan’s Kryptonite…

Former world champion turned super domestique, Kwiatkowski, returns to the world stage after a stellar season, monument victories and a crucial role in Froome’s fourth TDF victory to boast of. After his impressive win in Ponferrada back in 2014, the Pole comes to Bergen as one of the favourites to usurp Sagan’s rainbow crown…

Kwiatkowski takes the biggest win of his professional career at the 2014 World Championships. CREDIT: TrainingPeaks

This year’s World Championship race in Bergen has been blessed with a healthy crop of previous World Champions from the past few years. All of them happen to be some of the best puncheurs in the pro peloton, Philippe Gilbert, Rui CostaPeter Sagan, and, of course, Michal Kwiatkowski.

All four come to this race as some of the top favourites, eager to don the rainbow bands for yet another year. Sagan looks to make it a record breaking triple as Kwiatkowski, Gilbert and Costa aim to take a second.

Aside from Gilbert, none of the others hail from one of the big ‘cycling nations’ and come to this race with only six entrants a piece. Kwiatkowski has used these six to great effect, bringing with him a handful of strong rouleurs as well as an alternative attacking option.

Making up the rest of the Polish team are, Maciej Bodnar, Michał Gołaś, Rafał Majka, Maciej Paterski and Łukasz Wiśniowski. Bodnar and Golas will be entrusted with setting the pace as Wisniowski sits tightly in front of Kwiatkowski, shielding him from all the early action. Majka and Paterski will be the men for later on as the race enters it’s business end, each of them strong one day racers in their own rights.

The One Day Racer Emerges

Whilst he may have taken the Amstel Gold Race back in 2015, Kwiatkowski never really lived up to his ‘classics hype’ at his previous team of Quickstep. Yet another sufferer of the ‘Rainbow Curse’, the Pole failed to do the rainbow stripes justice and was left contemplating his path as a professional cyclist.

Kwiatkowski takes the first of many prestigious one day race victories at the 2015 Amstel Gold. CREDIT: CyclingNews.com

As soon as Sagan won in Richmond, a light relief escaped from Kwiatkowski; without the pressure of the Worlds jersey on his back, he could move to his new team, Team Sky, with little expectations. Without the pressure bestowed upon him at Quickstep, Kwiatkowski successfully navigated his first season at Team Sky, hauling an impressive amount of prestigious victories, namely the E3 Harelbeke race.

At the dawn of the 2017 season, there was still a question overlying the Pole’s head; was he a one day racer? Or a potential future stage racer? Being at Team Sky, he got the freedom to ride as both, heading the team in both the Spring classics and early season stage races.

Whilst he may have won prestigious one day races in the past, his victory in Strade Bianche this year marked the start of one incredible journey. Just two weeks later, he lined up at Milan San Remo as one of Sagan’s biggest challengers for the race victory.

Only Alaphilippe could manage to hold the pace of the two ‘one-day titans’, Sagan initiating an attack that Kwiatkowski duly followed. Many expected the Pole to then attack Sagan, his sprint strong but nowhere within the realms of the current World Champion.

Kwiatkowski outwits both Sagan and Alaphilippe on his way to a maiden monument victory. CREDIT: CyclingTips

Savvy riding from Kwiatkowski then ensured that Sagan burnt all of his matches before the finale, leaving him ripe for the picking in the final sprint. A maiden monument victory proved only the beginning for Kwiatkowski in 2017…

A string of impressive results in the Ardennes were then followed by a win in his national ITT event, a clear indication that form was booming. A successful Tour only honed his form for his penultimate goal of the season, the Classica San Sebastian.

Just as he did in Milan San Remo, the Pole kept his cards close to his chest all the way up until the final few hundred metres, bettering Tony Gallopin, Tom Dumoulin and Bauke Mollema in the sprint for the line.

Kwiatkowski’s final goal of the 2017 season lies in wait this Sunday, having found the winning formula for one day races this season, will the Pole once again pull on the rainbow bands?

The Sky Plan: World Champ turned Super Domestique

Just as many riders do when they make the switch to Team Sky, all results and pre-determined disciplines are thrown out of the window. The robotic machine that is Team Sky then analyse everything possible, from FTP to positioning on the saddle, everything is quantified and computed.

Some riders excel in this type of environment, and others flop. Mark Cavendish is one of those that never really got with the system, preferring to race off instinct rather than play the numbers game. Many feared for Kwiatkowski when he made the switch, fearful that he would lose the aggressive edge that powered him to a world’s victory in 2014.

Despite weeks of work for Froome, Kwiatkowski still finds the energy t finish second in stage 20’s ITT. CREDIT: eurosport

However, the Pole has seemingly slotted right into Team Sky’s system, maintaining his flair as a bike rider whilst also hitting all the right numbers. Not only is the power there, the intelligence and ability to decode a race has increased ten-fold.

Such improvements have allowed Michal Kwiatkowski to cross disciplines from a top ‘one day racer’ to super domestique. Despite spending the majority of the early season leading the British team in the hilly Spring classics, Kwiatkowski headed to the Tour de France to continue his extensive block of racing.

Many expected him to tail off come the Tour, sent merely as a workhorse for Chris Froome in the flatlands. His performance then defied all expectations, maybe even those of his own. Aside from Nieve, Kwiatkowski often proved to be one of Froome’s final men in the mountains, selflessly riding himself into the ground in an attempt to power his leader to a fourth Tour de France victory.

The Pole succeeded and was heralded by Froome as the most quintessential rider in the whole team; even if it wasn’t to go down on his palamares, the result was just as impressive as his early season Milan San Remo victory, monument crushing…

Sagan vs Kwiatkowski

A rivalry that’s been brewing since their teenage years, both riders have repeatedly bettered the other in their journeys to the pro cycling scene. Back in the day, Kwiatkowski was always regarded as the better sprinter, with Sagan the better puncheur and climber; fast forward to present day and it appears that these roles have reversed.

Kwiatkowski vs Sagan, the friendly cycling rivalry. CREDIT: Tim de Waele

What hasn’t reversed, however, is the fact that Kwiatkowski remains one of the only riders who can stop Peter Sagan from winning every race under the sun. The Pole has consistently proven to be Sagan’s bogey rider, his photo finish victory at this year’s Milan San Remo the icing on the rivalry cake.

Outside of racing, there appears to be no animosity between the pair, both of them actually getting along like two childhood friends. The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for one of Sagan’s other rivals, Greg Van Avermaet. Not only does Sagan despise his whole racing ethos, but also the way he holds himself off the bike.

Whilst they may be considered rivals on the bike, what’s to stop Kwiatkowski and Sagan working together this Sunday to dispel a common enemy?

A perfect route?

After his victory in 2014, Kwiatkowski really cemented himself as one of the strongest puncheurs and ‘one day racers’ in the peloton. His ability to race up short, sharp climbs and then hold a gap to the finish was phenomenal, using it to great effect in his Amstel Gold and Milan San Remo victories.

Not only can the Pole sprint uphill, but he also packs a punch on the flat, mixing it with some of the best bunch sprinters on his day. Both of these qualities point to the Bergen route being an ideal one for Kwiatkowski, gifting him too possibly circumstances to win from.

He can’t possibly do it all alone however, and will rely on his super team to power him to the finish line. Unlike in Ponferrada, Poland now only have six entries available to them, rather than the previous nine. Despite this, they have still seemingly brought a wealth of talented riders that shouldn’t struggle to protect Kwiatkowski.

Attack, follow or sprint? Kwiatkowski may just do all three. CREDIT: ProCycling.nl

Bodnar and Golas will be the work horses as Paterski and Majka head to Bergen as alternative attacking options. Paterski actually finished 17th on the tough worlds route back in 2014, whilst Majka podiumed in last year’s Olympic Road Race, two impressive one day results.

As stressed in the previous rider preview articles, the race up Salmon Hill will prove to be the most pivotal part of the race, the steep lower ramps providing a launchpad for some of the best puncheurs to solo away.

Kwiatkowski isn’t really one to launch moves of his own, and in recent years has rather chosen to follow and tempt with an attack later on. With the likes of Sagan and Van Avermaet surrounding him, the Pole will bide his time, unlikely to spend all his energy launching the initial attack.

Whilst Salmon Hill may be the location of the race winning move, Kwiatkowski will be hoping to use on of the false flats on the run up to the line as his launchpad to victory. Failing that, he’s always got his punchy sprint…

Will we see Kwiatkowski don the stripes for a second time?

InsideThePeloton: Kwiatkowski is a rider that I’ve admired since his days at Radioshack in 20111, having watched him grow into the rider he’s become, I feel almost part of his incredible journey. Whilst I think it will be extremely difficult for him to win this Sunday, he is the rider I’ll be rooting the most for…

JustProCycling: I’m not sure what to make of Kwiatkowski. I’m tempted to say he’ll run into somebody more powerful but I’ve been wrong about him so many times!

As some of you older followers may know, the join series between me and @JustProCycling is back, an anniversary edition of UCI World Championships Rider Spotlight! For the next installment, head to @JustProCycling for a look at the outsider’s chance at a world title! Did you enjoy reading this article? Feel free to leave a comment down below…