In Poland there’s Dawid Kwiatkowksi, who looks like a Slavic Justin Bieber. There are several Kwiatkowskis in cycling. Grzegorz has ridden elite races in France while Łukasz rode on the track. But they’re no relation.
Michał Kwiatkowski was born in the village of Działyn in Central Poland on 2 June 1990. Rural boredom seem to be a reason he started riding, as he tells Velonews:
“There was nothing to do at all. My brother was riding his bike, so I started to follow him. From the first days on the bike, I started to feel great… …My parents were farmers, but now my father works in a factory.”
His elder brother Radosław was good in the elite ranks and he wanted to copy, whether the wins or the cool looking kit that Radek brought home. He started riding with TKK Pacific Toruń, a team based in Toruń, a large town about 30km away.
Those pictures and more are from Facebook’s OfficialMichalKwiatkowski.
Success was surely another factor. Coached by Wiesław Miedziankiewicz he won an international stage for 16 year olds, the “Po Ziemii Kluczborskiej” and collected several junior titles on the road and track.
Kwiatkowski was the best junior around. That’s not hype. He won the UCI’s rankings in 2007 all while a 17 year old with another year to go in the junior ranks. He won the junior Peace Race in the Czech Republic ahead of Matthias Brändle, now with IAM, with Peter Sagan and other names lurking in the results. There was gold and silver in the European Cycling Championships in the road race and time trial too.
He didn’t top the rankings in 2008 but only because the UCI changed the format to abolish individual rankings in favour of nations. No matter, he won the time trial world championship title in South Africa in 2008 – Taylor Phinney was third – and his efforts all year helped Poland win the junior rankings. But the junior results are often misleading because if Kwiatkowski was good there plenty of others who shined but have since vanished and are probably sitting in an office, factory, bike shop or university class as you read this. I’ve looked before at the correlation between junior triumph and professional-level success. But it’s notable that Kwiatkowski was competitive from the early years, much like Peter Sagan who was winning international stage races as a 16 year old, technically too young for the junior ranks.
He turned pro with the modest Caja Rural team in 2010 (a deal that saw his brother Radosław join too, a bit like Juraj Sagan following Peter’s slipstream). But if the team was small he was still 19 years old and it was a leap into the deep end of the talent pool. It might seem an odd move for a Pole to sign with a Spanish team but he was under the wing of rider agent Giuseppe Acquadro. The Italian has a stable of Spanish and Colombian riders including Nairo Quintana and Rigoberto Urán. Acquadro was thus able to link Kwiatkowski to a Spanish programme. It was all part of a three year plan where he’d ride with the smaller team before joining the Caisse d’Epargne team (now Movistar) as he told website s24.pl:
“I had the opportunity to sign a contract with the ProTour team right away but together we decided that it would be better if the first season was spent at Caja Rural. There is a little less racing and the races are easier, so at the beginning it’s a good step to go to the next level“
But he spent as much time in the Caja Rural green jersey as he did in the Polish national kit where he rode the Tour de l’Avenir when he was third on the first stage and by which point the plan had gone out of the window as he signed a contract with Radioshack. 2011 saw him adopt a new red and white jersey, that of Radioshack. A series of good results in Belgium appeared notably third overall in the Three Days of West Flanders and again in the Three Days of De Panne.
This caught the attention of Quick Step team boss Pat Lefevere. For years Lefevere had a secret pact with Johan Bruyneel and Dirk Demol over at Discovery/Radioshack not to recruit riders from each other. It kept down wages and stopped feuding between two teams with strong connections to West Flanders. But Lefevere thought the Pole was just too good and broke the deal to sign Kwiatkowski.
2012 was a relatively quiet year at OPQS. He won the time trial at the Three Days of West Flanders and was eighth overall in the Eneco Tour and rode the Giro. All good in hindsight but at the time it wasn’t wowing the crowds or getting the headlines. This all changed for 2013 when he was fourth on the Queen Stage of Tirreno-Adriatico to Prato di Tivo and suddenly alongside Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali and Alberto Contador in the gruppo di testa. He made a long break in the Tour of Flanders and then finished fourth in the Amstel Gold Race and fifth in the Flèche Wallonne.
The Dauphiné went well and then came the Tour where he wore the white jersey and ended up 11th overall, all while helping Mark Cavendish albeit not every day as he finished five times in the top-5 on different days. He ended the year as known quantity and a medal at the team time trial event at the worlds.
2014′s gone up a level. He won the Strade Bianche, dispatching Peter Sagan in on the climb into Siena. He’s stood on the podium in every stage race he’s ridden this year, whether in the final results or along the way. He was third in the Flèche Wallonne and in Liège after finishing fifth in the Amstel and today he leads the Tour de Romandie after a prologue win. But merely listing results is not the point, note he can make the podium in Liège on Sunday and on Tuesday he wins a prologue time trial.
This week alone will be a good test in the mountains. He’s done before in Tirreno-Adriatico. Next comes a break and he’ll return to racing in the Critérium du Dauphiné in June, ride the Polish national championships and then the Tour de France, “the biggest goal of the season”. What the plan is remains unknown, is it a real tilt at the GC or the white jersey and maybe a stage win? And how much energy will he use, if all, to help Mark Cavendish? According to Cavendish’s biographer Daniel Friebe in a recent Cycling Podcast the Pole isn’t OPQS’s best wagon in a sprint train. If the video below is enough to go by we can expect a lot of Polish support at the roadside:
The uncertainty is real because he’s a hard rider to categorise. He beat Tony Martin in the Romandie prologue and back in Algarve too. But he can sprint fast from a group and seems at ease in the classics, whether the Strade Bianche and Tour of Flanders or the Ardennes, a win in the Flèche Wallonne seems a matter of time. If anything he’s throwback to the past, an all-rounder. He might not win in the high mountains nor take a long time trial nor win bunch sprints but he’ll come close and once the terrain is selective he gets hard to beat. Worse for his rivals he’s still 23. That said if time trialling is a technical skill, he’s been on it for many years now so we can expect improvements but not a leap forward.
One thing we know is that he’ll stay at OPQS for the time being. 19 riders on the squad have their contracts up for renewal and several will be moving on but the Belgian team has already renewed Kwiatkowski’s contract.
Paying It Back
Kwiatkowski’s helping his old club in Toruń. Sponsor Pacific is a cereal company that’s been bought by Swiss giant Nestlé and the firm is now a sponsor of the team. He’s also the force and some of the funding behind the Akademia Kolarska Copernicus, a cycling academy. OPQS team mate Michał Gołaś and fellow Toruń resident is also on hand to help.
Now time for school. The last character in Michał isn’t an “l” like the last character of, say, Michael. Instead it has a Polish character “ł”. A lot of the media miss this out despite being happy to use other foreign characters, for example sprinters André Greipel and Arnaud Démare have the acute “é”. Also kwiat is Polish for flower which explains headlines like “Flower Power” or “Kwiatkowski Blooms” and maybe “Kwiatkowski Wilts Under Pressure” et cetera.
Two things to note. The “ł” is pronounced differently for the surname “w” in Polish is pronounced as a “v”. Listen for yourself:
Forget celebrity singers, Michał Kwiatkowski is making a name for himself whether in the pro peloton or Google’s rankings although many struggle to write or say his name correctly. Dominant in the juniors, quick into the pro ranks and now competent on every terrain, it’ll be interesting to see how he fares this week, this summer and the coming years. A classics contender or a grand tour contender? Maybe both but that’s for him to spell out.