Kwiatkowski’s initiative pays off with solo world championship victory
Taking a brilliant solo win, Polish rider Michal Kwiatkowski rescued the world road race championships for his Omega Pharma QuickStep team, ensuring that the squad would take a gold medal out of the Ponferrada races.
Although Kwiatkowski was racing for his national team, Omega Pharma-QuickStep manager Patrick Lefevere had said beforehand that he saw the road race as the final chance after the squad was unable to repeat its team time trial win of one year ago, and Tony Martin had to accept second in the individual TT.
The Polish rider jumped across to a breakaway group on the final climb of the race, then dropped them to cross the summit alone. He was chased by some of the strongest riders in pro cycling, including former winner Philippe Gilbert, but the others hesitated too much behind the Belgian and ran out of metres to take the win.
Kwiatkowski reached the line one second ahead of Simon Gerrans (Australia), who outprinted Alejandro Valverde (Spain), Matti Breschel (Denmark), Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) and Tony Gallopin (France) for silver.
Gilbert sacrificed his chances for compatriot and BMC Racing teammate Van Avermaet and rolled in a further three seconds back for seventh, while Alexander Kristoff (Norway) beat John Degenkolb (Germany) and Nacer Bouhanni (France) to win the bunch sprint.
Kwiatkowski had a strong season, marking himself out as one of the best young riders in the peloton, but the 24 year old was nevertheless pinching himself at the finish.
“I felt really great on the last lap. I am just really thankful to my team-mates for what they did. I tried to risk because I saw some of the riders were still calculating before the last climb. I didn’t, I won, and that is incredible,” he smiled, still coming to terms with the result.
He said that he had an idea of tactics in his mind before the race. “Two days ago I was watching the under 23 race. I knew it was possible to arrive in the smaller group, and especially with the rain we had today. It was really risky.
“I just did my effort on the last climb. I had a bit of a gap on the riders and it is incredible. I can’t believe it still.”
While he was not regarded as one of the absolute favourites for the race, he and his team performed like contenders from early on. “We decided to continue riding, to stay in the front,” he said, talking about their tactics. “I just felt great from the start. I saw there was no time to wait, we had to keep our concentration and try to lead the peloton. That was our best chance.
“What the guys did was just amazing. I had support right until the end from them.”
Kwiatkowski dedicated his new rainbow jersey to his girlfriend, his family and to Poland itself. As for Gerrans, Valverde and the other riders in the top six, they will be replaying the finale in their heads for some time, rueing that they didn’t cooperate a little better to bring him back.
It is said that fortune favours the brave and, when the pressure was on, Kwiatkowski showed that attribute in spades.
How it played out:
On the final day of the 2014 world road race championships, the riders lined out for the start of the elite road race facing 14 laps of an 18.2 kilometre circuit. The total of 254.8 kilometres made for a long and tough day in the saddle, with the course profile including the hills of Confederación and Mirador on each lap.
Early on, Miguel Angel Rubiano Chavez (Colombia) launched the first attack but was hauled back four kilometres after the start, and one of the pre-race favourites Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) was temporarily delayed due to punctures.
Several riders tried to get clear and eventually four managed to break the elastic near the top of the second climb of Mirador. Zydrunas Savickas (Lithuania), Matija Kvasina (Croatia), Carlos Julian Quintero (Colombia) and Oleksandr Polivoda (Ukraine) opened a 45 second gap and had one minute 31 seconds at the end of lap one. This quickly grew to four minutes, and was up to seven minutes 17 seconds by the end of lap two.
Greece’s sole representative in the race, Georgios Bouglas, set off in pursuit. He was joined by Michal Golas of Poland, but the latter dropped back after several kilometres. The lone chaser was eight minutes 23 seconds back at the end of the third lap, while the peloton was a considerable 14.38 seconds behind.
A crash in Ponferrada took down several riders, including Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) and Ramunas Navardauskas (Lithuania). They were all however able to chase back on.
The German team began driving with just under 180 kilometres to go, trying to keep things reasonable. At the end of lap four Bouglas was ten minutes 32 seconds behind, and the peloton was 15 minutes 2 seconds in arrears. The Poland team was also taking responsibility for the chase, realising that it had a contender in Michal Kwiatkowski.
Bouglas was hauled back before the end of lap six; there, crossing the start/finish line, the break was 12 minutes 10 seconds head of the Poland-led bunch, which had reduced it to just under 11 minutes by the next time around and eight minutes 34 seconds by the end of lap eight.
The erosion continued and starting lap ten, the four leaders had five minutes 47 seconds. The Polish team were fully committed and kept working, hacking the gap down to four and a half minutes with 80 kilometres left.
The other teams were aware that the laps were ticking down and Fabio Aru (Italy) fired off an attack on the Mirador. This split the peloton and lined things out, further hacking back on the break’s lead. With four laps remaining the leaders were just two minutes 12 seconds ahead, prompting an attack on the climb by Quintero.
As he pushed ahead, trying to fend off the chase, Aru put the hammer down again and dragged team-mate Giovanni Visconti and others away. Also in the move on the Confederacion climb were Peter Kennaugh (Great Britain), who also pushed the pace, plus Chris Juul Jensen (Denmark).
Several others got across over the next few kilometres, with the increased group also including Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway), Michael Albasini (Switzerland), Tim Wellens (Belgium), Simon Geschke (Germany), Giampaolo Caruso (Italy), Dani Navarro (Spain), Yuri Trofimov (Russia), Rein Taaramae (Estonia), Visconti, Sep Vanmarcke (Belgium) and Tony Martin (Germany).
The latter attacked on the descent off the Mirador climb and used his time trial ability to build on what was an eight second lead by the start of lap twelve. The chasers were 22 seconds ahead of the peloton there, and they worked to try to both haul Martin back and also to stay clear.
Former world TT champion’s efforts spark off further moves:
Martin increased his lead to 20 seconds, then tried to preserve it as best as he could on the Confederación climb. He had 14 seconds with 42 kilometres to go, but was then caught going across the top of the climb. Behind, the French team had decided to take up the chase and lined out the bunch. Meanwhile, Ireland’s Dan Martin had crashed and lost out on the chance to chase the title, while Chris Froome (Great Britain) had retired.
Going over the finish line for the second-last time, Kennaugh and Boasson Hagen were at the head of the break. Tim Wellens (Belgium) had been dropped on the climb and was about to be caught by the peloton, which was less than 30 seconds back.
Visconti was feeling good and jumped clear before the next climb, seeking to use his uphill abilities to extend the gap he was opened. He was joined by Kennaugh, while behind the rest of the break was caught with 31.6 kilometres to go. The peloton continued the pursuit and got the final two riders back on the climb.
Alessandro De Marchi (Italy) clipped away with 30 kilometres remaining and was soon joined by Michael Valgren Andersen (Denmark) and Cyril Gautier (France). Vasil Kiryienka (Belarus) saw the danger and chased the three man break, bridging just before they crossed the start/finish line for the final lap. The four riders had a 36 second lead over the next chasers, while the bunch was 44 seconds back.
Final act unfolds:
Heading past the castle for the final time, the leaders had 15 kilometres left to cover and were dreaming of a surprise upset for the favourites. However the chase was very much on behind and the peloton went past the first intermediate time check just 35 seconds back. The Spanish team was chasing hard for Alejandro Valverde, and Michael Albasini was also contributing in order to help the chances of Swiss team-mate Fabian Cancellara.
With 13 kilometres left the gap was down to just 20 seconds, making clear that the break was going to be caught. Spain was continuing to chase, but the Italian, German and Belgian teams were lurking, waiting for the chance to play their cards. They inched closer on the long climb, and with ten kilometres to go the leaders had just 13 seconds.
The Belgian team took up the chase, their action suggesting that former champion Philippe Gilbert was feeling good. The pace then eased, though, enabling the leaders to stay clear over the top and then down the descent. They had nine seconds with eight kilometres to go, enabling them to safely round the corner at the dam and then keep pushing on.
The peloton also got around the turn safely, with Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland) jumping clear prior to the final climb. He bridged across to the break and pushed forward, getting a gap on the riders who had been in the break.
Behind, Joaquim Rodriguez (Spain) attacked, trying to use his well-known explosive ability to get a gap. Another rider with similar skills, former champion Gilbert was wary and immediately responded, as did Simon Gerrans (Australia).
Rodriguez’ team-mate Valverde then tried his own move but was tracked by the Australian, with Gilbert, Matti Breschel (Denmark), Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) and Tony Gallopin (France) also there.
Kwiatkowski still had a seven second lead and hurtled down the descent, knowing a world title was very much up for grabs. Valverde was concerned and pushed the pace inside the final two kilometres, then Gilbert came through to help.
He dug in and gave everything to try to get the leader back, while behind Gerrans, Valverde and the others sat on and waited for the sprint. They gambled that Gilbert would do enough to bring Kwiatkowski within catching distance, but instead that lack of commitment by the others in the break was all that the Polish rider needed to stay clear.
He had enough time to look behind, freewheel, take his hands off the bars and kiss his jersey, then roll across the line to become the first ever Polish rider to win the elite world road race championships.
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