Standing with his soigneur a few yards after the finish line in Flèche Wallonne, amongst all the hustle and bustle, Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) struck a strangely solitary figure as he downed an energy drink and caught his breath.
The Polish star had been one of the strongest and most aggressive racers of the Belgian Classic, but 57th place on the line and more than seven minutes down, the rewards were scant, and his frustration at the finish was palpable.
Kwiatkowski has a good if not great series of results in Flèche Wallonne, with a third, fifth and seventh on his palmares on the Mur de Huy. And at the start in Seraing, he had been clear that if he or any other rider wanted to beat Valverde, there would be little point in taking him all the way to the line.
Sure enough, it was Kwiatkowski’s move, together with Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) on the first ascent of the Mur that effectively unleashed the host of late attacks and counter-charges which wore down Valverde’s Movistar troops. But ultimately and through no fault of his own, others had benefited the most from Kwiatkowski’s strategy.
“We were trying to go in and move to isolate Alejandro [Valverde], and Movistar and that worked out,” Kwiatkowski told Cyclingnews. “At the end of the day we came up with nothing, though, because I missed the [Nibali] breakaway, which was the right move of the day. Then even after I attacked on the second last climb with Alessandro [De Marchi, BMC Racing] to try and get back to the break, we couldn’t hold on.
“So that was another crucial moment. If we could have held on and got to the break, it would have been much better. But in the end that came back all together and we started chasing, and that was our last option.”
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