Kwiatkowski Makes a Name for Himself

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Who is Michał Kwiatkowski? Ask Google and the answer might confuse. There’s a Canadian ice hockey player and for many in France “Michal” is a singer who featured in Star Academy, a TV series.

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.

The Junior Time Trial Podium in 2008

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

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.

What Next?
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.

Larrick April 30, 2014 at 1:31 pm

He, like Sagan, seems to me to be the definition of an all-rounder. Different to Sagan in at this moment in time he’s not as quick in a sprint but better climbing. You wonder if either of them were to end up at a team like Sky, would they be pushed down a particular path a la Wiggo?

Sam April 30, 2014 at 2:26 pm

I think Kwiatkowski would be taken the GC route, Sagan the Classics

BC April 30, 2014 at 1:41 pm

Excellent piece of background research INRNG – thank you. Could Kwiatkowski really signify the return of the long lost ‘all rounder’

Cilmeri April 30, 2014 at 1:53 pm

Sagan came to mind for me as well – both throwbacks to an all rounder era maybe, but will surely specialize eventually? Any reason why Kwiatkowski shouldn’t attempt the green jersey? Doesn’t seem quick enough, but might be able to pick up points everywhere a la Sagan.

Seems much more suited to be a GC contender than Sagan and I’d expect him to go well in the Tour again.

Sam April 30, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Kwiatkowski and the maillot vert? Not whilst he and Cav are on the same team, I doubt

The Inner Ring April 30, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Agreed but it’s a very different style. Kwiatkowski’s got a background in TT riding. So did Marcel Kittel but you can see Kwiatkowski is built for hillier races. He’s won the points competition in the Tour of the Basque Country this year.

tourdeutah April 30, 2014 at 7:52 pm

Good point about being the points leader at al pais Vasco. He has seen alot of podiums kin big stage races this year, won’t be surprised to see him podium and be high up on points Le Tour.

Anonymous April 30, 2014 at 8:19 pm

Points jersey in the Giro, or races using similar points system seems realistic.

Tovarishch April 30, 2014 at 1:58 pm

There should be a prize for the first native English speaking commentator to pronounce his first name correctly. I suspect most will use Michael, some will use the German Michael and we may even hear the Russian Михаи́л. I am sure we won’t hear ‘Meehow’.

TT May 1, 2014 at 8:55 am

Right Tovarishch! “MEE – HOW”

Merino April 30, 2014 at 2:34 pm

This lad is really easy to like and root for in a race, when I have seen a few interviews he comes across very well, polite and little ego. I should imagine he will get alot of support on the English roads in the Tdf from the Polish community.

Any plans on doing a “roads to ride” piece from UK in the future Inrng?

Chris E Dub April 30, 2014 at 4:44 pm

Would love to see a UK ‘Roads to ride’ – I went up and over Holme Moss (‘Côte de Holme Moss’) from this year’s Tour at the weekend. Although others have had varying experiences, I found the route fantastic and challenging at the same time. Our roads certainly can’t compete with those in more mountainous countries, but they certainly have their own charms and quirks.

The Inner Ring April 30, 2014 at 7:17 pm

I need to know the roads in question in order to write about them so these are out of the question. I’ve got to try and study them and the Irish roads for upcoming race previews, a challenge to write a preview without knowing the terrain very well.

Patrick May 1, 2014 at 4:07 pm

I’m sure there would be many an Irish/British fan willing to help out with the research, I’ve not ridden the roads personally, but Ben Lowe of Veloviewer fame has done some great previews of the opening stages of this years Tour;

He’s done a piece on climbs on Stage 2 of the Giro also!

Chris James May 1, 2014 at 12:58 pm

I dare say you are already aware of them, but the books ‘100 Greatest Cycling Climbs and its companion volume does this job very well.

Przemek April 30, 2014 at 3:03 pm

2012 wasn’t really that quiet, you missed the Tour de Pologne, where he finished second behind Moser, was leading for a while and it was the first time where he became famous in Poland.
Also his cycling academy name should be “Akademia Kolarska Copernicus”, without any “ą”.

Ian April 30, 2014 at 3:22 pm

I can only hope the likes of Kwiatkowski and Sagan turn around cycling a bit, away from the over-specialization that there is today. It’d be great to see strong riders race throughout the year again, on different terrain.

Neil April 30, 2014 at 3:59 pm

I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do in the Tour de France and the World Championships. My only worry is that he is being over-raced by OPQS.

Bundle April 30, 2014 at 4:34 pm

Nice piece. I don’t Kwiatkowski should specialize. He’s doing fine so far. He just needs to find a way to improve his climbing (what’s his weight?), and he can be all over the place. There’s not one reason in the world why a guy cannot win Flanders and, say, the Vuelta, later in the same year.

Kelly's Bidon April 30, 2014 at 7:36 pm

Excellent presentation INRNG. Clearly and logistically Lefereve is no mule’s fool. Classics now a given, the guru is subsequently building a GT/GC squadra – hence Rigo. Still a few riders short but they will all be pulled in by Kwiatowski’s potential over the next season or so. If anything, young Michael reminds me of ‘The Badger’…similar farming background, similar climbing/sprinting/GT-Classics ability, similar ‘never give up’ mentality. I don’t remember the French in its original form but in translation Hinault’s ruling missive came out as something like ‘better to die alone on the road than to suffer the anonymity of the peloton’. Chapeau to that!

Kelly's Bidon April 30, 2014 at 8:02 pm

addendum: Michal, lo siente! and Kwiatkowski… senior moment/edit button facility type-a-thing, nowt to do with this fine merlot.

Duncan April 30, 2014 at 9:24 pm

Great detail, I always wondered why he was at Caja Rural, odd place for an east European

KB April 30, 2014 at 10:54 pm

‘Dziekuje’ for this excellent piece! Kwiatek is an exciting talent and rider to watch; he can contest finals and win on varying terrain and distance. Again, another advantage to living in the Low Countries is coverage of lesser races, such as the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen, where I saw him win the TT in 2012, and it was clear he was one to keep an eye on.

I reckon the move to OPQS was aided by the presence of Michal Golas as well – the hometown connection, and he was national champion proceeding Kwiatkowski. The announcers don’t pronounce his surname correctly either, which results in a very different meaning in Polish ;) ‘Muur van Huy’ is funny in Polish too!

The Inner Ring April 30, 2014 at 11:11 pm

Huy makes the Russians laugh too

Anonymous May 1, 2014 at 11:08 pm


Arthur Alston May 1, 2014 at 1:41 am

I was hoping (and sort of expecting) you to do an expose on this young star this week. Thank you – answers many questions I had and I learnt a whole deal more.

It made me gasp when I read that “He’s stood on the podium in every stage race he’s ridden this year” This is simply astonishing.

OPQS is steadily starting to deliver on the promise of a super team. Thus far this year they are outperforming Sky. With the effect of new leadership/management on BMC its all good news for cycling fans.

Ben May 1, 2014 at 8:32 am

Re: riding the UK climbs.

Simon Warren has an excellent book covering 100 of the major UK climbs. He’s ridden them and describes in detail. Plenty missing, as always the way in those books but gives a good feel and varied selection.

Chris James May 1, 2014 at 1:00 pm

I see you got this comment in before mine!

Alpen May 1, 2014 at 9:31 am

I think the nearest rider in comparison probably has to be Valverde. Regardless of pre and post Puerto, he remains the most competitive across varying terrain.

matcho May 1, 2014 at 11:23 am

Great read! I’d just add that he’s often called Flowerman in PL, since his last name stands for flowers as you have written.

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