Michal Kwiatkowski‘s build-up to the Tour of Flanders took place a long way south of the grey steeples and low skies of the Flemish Ardennes, but even from the remove of his training base on the Côte d’Azur, the lie of the land was clear. The road to victory in Oudenaarde on Sunday runs through his old teammates at Quick-Step Floors.
“Maybe you can’t name one guy as a main favourite, but I would give five stars to Quick-Step instead of to any one surname,” Kwiatkowski told reporters in Kortrijk on Friday evening. “But there are plenty of other strong guys, like [Tiesj] Benoot or [Peter] Sagan, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they won the race. If you just make the right move, it might be your day.
“For sure, Quick-Step play a really big role and have won so many Classics by using the team’s strength, and they’ll try to do it again in Flanders. It’s going to be hard to fight against them, but we have to use our possibilities.”
Kwiatkowski arrives in Belgium as a dark horse for Ronde victory but is a curious sort of a contender, given that this is his one and only cobbled race of a spring campaign built around the Ardennes Classics. He has also lined out in the Tour of Flanders on just three previous occasions, with a best finish of 27th two years ago, but his 2016 E3 Harelbeke victory and his startling recent form mean that he will be marked closely by Quick-Step, Sagan et al in the finale.
For his part, Kwiatkowski has been watching them carefully over the past two weeks since his last outing at Milan-San Remo, planning his training rides in Menton to ensure he had ample time to sit down in front of the television and watch the finales of E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem and Dwars door Vlaanderen.
“I was watching those races, and I even started some training quite early to see the finals so I never took a nap after training,” Kwiatkowski said. “There are no regrets that I wasn’t here. I think it was the best decision to skip those races because they look really tough. If I had raced Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, Dwars and then Flanders, I would never have recovered in time for the Ardennes.”
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