Kwiatkowski Makes a Name for Himself

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 popular TV series.

In Poland there’s Dawid Kwiatkowksi, who sort of 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 told 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 Michał wanted to copy him, 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 from home and famous as the birthplace of astronomer Copernicus.

Those pictures and more are from Facebook’s OfficialMichalKwiatkowski. Boredom and new clothes quickly gave way to success. 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 soon 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 respectively.

The Junior Time Trial Podium in 2008

He didn’t top the rankings in 2008 but that’s 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 or bike shop while you read this. I’ve looked before at the correlation between junior triumph and professional-level success and it’s not big. 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.

Pro with Caja Rural: 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 a big 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 able to link Kwiatkowski to a Spanish programme and 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

Radioshack: 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.

Secret Pact: 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, he broke the deal and signed Kwiatkowski.

OPQS start: 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 nor getting headlines. This all changed for 2013 when he was fourth on the Queen Stage of Tirreno-Adriatico to Prato di Tivo in the lofty company of 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 for himself on different days. He ended the year as a 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 now has the rainbow jersey for a year. But merely listing results is not the point, note he can make the podium in Liège on a Sunday and on the following Tuesday he wins a prologue time trial, all when aged 23.

What Next?
This piece originally went online in late April and Kwiatkowski was all set for the Tour de Romandie, a break and then the Dauphiné and Tour de France. It seemed as if everything was set for him to continue his progress. Romandie started perfectly as he won the prologue but he abandoned the race later. After a break he resumed racing at the Dauphiné but was off the pace in the prologue and dropped early on the Col du Béal when Chris Froome and Alberto Contador had their first summer showdown.

The Tour wasn’t any better, it was his “the biggest goal of the season” but probably the biggest disappointment and he spent much of summer burned out… only recovering in time for the Tour of Britain and the rest is history.

Rider Type?
The uncertainty is real because he’s a hard rider to categorise. 1m76 and 68kg, he’s physically versatile. 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. Perhaps the only limiting factor in the classics is his team, OPQS have others hungry to win the cobbled classics and he’ll have to give way. If anything he’s throwback to the past, an all-rounder in an age of specialists. 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, more so since he’s a risk taker and a good bike handler. Worryingly for his rivals he’s just 24. One thing we know is that he’ll stay at OPQS, the Belgian team had already renewed Kwiatkowski’s contract in the spring.

Paying It Back
What to do with the money? He’s concious of the help he got and now 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” in Michał is pronounced differently and as for the surname it doesn’t rhyme with Bukowski because a “w” in Polish is pronounced as a “v”. Listen for yourself:

Michał Kwiatkowski is making a name for himself whether in the pro peloton or Google’s rankings although many struggle to say his name. Dominant in the juniors, quick into the pro ranks and now competent on every terrain, he’s a hard rider to label. A classics winner who could win or five monuments in the coming years or a grand tour contender? Maybe both but that’s for him to spell out.

43 thoughts on “Kwiatkowski Makes a Name for Himself”

  1. 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?

  2. 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.

  3. 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’.

    • Hugh Porter and Brian Smith in the Itv4 Tour of Britain commentary were a case in point

      “Michael K-vee-at-cow-ski” from Hugh and “K-wee-a-kof-ski” from Brian

      – although both struggle to pronounce the names of ‘anybody foreign’, eg “Batt-a-glyn” and “Sil-vane Chavanel”, let alone “Math-i-as Brand-lee”

      That Dutch girl the BBC red button had doing the men’s RR coverage on Sunday was brilliant however

  4. 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?

    • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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.

  5. 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”.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. ‘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!

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. Bruyneel claimed on Twitter that he signed Kwiatkowski when no one else would. That seems to contradict what’s said here that he had WT options and was in the Movistar pipeline. Also, is the wage collusion you mention illegal in Europe like it is in the US?

    • Maybe nobody else would sign him from Caja Rural? Then again Bruyneel is not famous for his honesty. As for the collusion, it’s not usually open practice anywhere but finding the paperwork or conspiracy is hard work.

    • I expect Bruyneel had a very specific definitions in mind of “when”, “no one else” and “would”, which might not match other people’s definitions.

      That form of collusion is generally unlawful in the EU, although as our host says there’s unlikely to be a paper trail. Some ‘no poaching’ restrictions can be imposed, for instance a senior employee can be restricted from inducing junior colleagues to move with him when he changes job.

  16. Good to read this again. It almost seems like a new piece now it’s set against a different backdrop.

    However, you’ve got “today he leads the Tour de Romandie after a prologue win” in the main bit, which is a bit jarring and probably warrants a tweak.

  17. I started to pay attention to this guy after he won Strade Bianche this year. He’s one who seems not afraid of losing so he can race to win. A refreshing change from so many who seem caught up in not losing rather than taking a chance on a win. I hope he can enliven some races in 2015 and beyond – will he display his rainbow jersey at Lombardia?

  18. It seems that there is a lot of Young polish riders coming up recently, and Kwiatkowski’s win is the culmination of that trend. Would you say there is a reason for that, has Poland set up any kind of special development plan for young cyclist? Should we expect any more young talent emerging in future seasons?

  19. @Simon, there is no national development program in Poland. Actually school teams for the youngest lack money and equipment for kids, so most of them is really strugling. Which is sad, because Poland got huge cycling traditions behind iron curtain and it was lost after transformation. Now cycling is getting back its glory, but there is still much to do. I would say that polish riders like Szmyd, Huzarski, Niemiec, Gołaś, Poljański and finally Kwiato and Majka are there because of their talent and determination rather any program. It’s just coincidence that they shine in the same time.

    It’s worth to mention that Kwiatkowski year ago opened his cycling academy for the youngest kids. They’ve got proper money, facilities and trainers.

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