24-year-old Michal Kwiatkowski, isolated for Poland after his teammates gave everything on the front to chase down breakaways earlier in the race, gained a golden reward for an enormous risk. Kwiatkowski attacked with 6.9km to go, in anticipation of a final climb (1.1km, 6.6% average gradient) and then a descent to a flat finale of the 254.8km UCI World Road Championship on Sunday.
The move was perfectly timed. Kwiatkowski went on to win gold despite the best effort of the riders behind him. A small group of favorites tried to chase him down in the final kilometers. Several national teams had multiple riders still present in the peloton, but the gap was too much to hope the race ended in a bunch sprint, which forced a select group to chase down Kwiatkowski. He was able to hold the elite group behind him off in the final meters to become world road champion for the first time in his career.
“Our team did incredible work today,” Kwiatkowski said of his Polish teammates. “We just tried to control the bunch the whole day. I was in the front and I didn’t plan to attack on the second-to-last descent. But I saw the opportunity to be in the group in front, which had five riders at that point before the last climb. I caught them and could relax a bit, and control my effort on the last climb. Even a small advantage on the last climb can be difficult to chase down a rider like me from there. I saw it was possible from the Under-23 race before, that it’s possible to make it. I’m not the best sprinter compared to guys like Simon Gerrans and Alejandro Valverde, but in the end it worked and it is an incredible feeling. I think for Polish cycling this is really important to have a beautiful victory like this. This season has been amazing for Poland with Rafal Majka and his performance at the Tour de France for example. Now I have this rainbow jersey, and it’s an amazing feeling. I told the guys at a meeting yesterday that I felt great and I said it again at the start of the race. I really needed support from them and they did it all the time. I felt relaxed all day. With these weather conditions it was important to stay in front. This made it much easier for me to have such great help from my teammates. It kept me comfortable and gave me big energy at the end. I have to thank them, and I have to also dedicate this to my girlfriend Agata and the Polish nation as they give me such big morale, and I am so proud to give this back to them.”
The Polish rider’s victory is the 65th (63rd road) overall for OPQS, in three disciplines, in 2014. He is also the first Polish rider in UCI history to win road gold, and only the third in OPQS history to earn the rainbow jersey on the road after Tom Boonen in 2005, and Paolo Bettini in 2006 and 2007. OPQS also won the 2014 bronze medal in the TTT event, and silver in the ITT with Tony Martin.
“I am only 24-years-old, but in the second half of the season I just felt great until now and it showed in the final kilometers,” Kwiatkowski said. “At 1.5 kilometers to go it felt like so much left to go, but what can I say. I saw guys coming, I had a little bit of an advantage, and I knew it was all or nothing. I went full gas and I made it after a really risky attack. In the end, it worked, and I am going to celebrate this victory. I also want to thank Omega Pharma – Quick-Step as they have always had confidence in me and because of this growth as a rider with them, I believed I could win with this kind of attack on the last lap. I should ask Tom Boonen what his life was like after winning the World Championship in 2005. I was 15-years-old when he won in Madrid. I am so proud to be the third OPQS rider to wear the rainbow stripes on the road. It shows the winning tradition of this team.”
“Today for the team, and especially for me it’s a great emotion,” OPQS CEO Patrick Lefevere said. “Michal is a rider who really grew up on our team. We always believed in him. He’s a great guy, and today we are all incredibly happy for him. The first time I met him was 2008, and immediately he impressed me with his character and his talent. Michal and the entire Polish team did a great job today. It was strong, but also intelligent racing. He chose the right opportunity to go and, to me, at the finish following the race it was one of the most emotional moments of my career. Congratulations to him and all of OPQS is so proud of him today.”
Elite Men’s Road Race Highlights – 2014 Road World Championships, Ponferrada, Spain.
1. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol)
2. Simon Gerrans (Aus)
3. Alejandro Valverde (Esp)
Photo courtesy OPQS/Tim De Waele