Velon spoke to Team Sky rider Michał Kwiatkowski ahead of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, where he starting his 2018 season this week.
The 27-year-old Pole is looking to build on an excellent 2017 campaign in which he won Strade Bianche, Milano-Sanremo and Clásica San Sebastián, and also played a starring role in Chris Froome’s Tour de France victory.
Was the off-season a chance to celebrate the victories you achieved last season?
I celebrated them straight afterwards. By the end of the season those wins are gone. You forget about it, and when you’re off the bike for two or three weeks, you feel like you’re getting fat and that you should start again. But last season wasn’t only about the wins; I was happy with my performance across the entire season, that I could perform from the start [at Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana] until the end.
So that’s great, and I hope I can be in that mood for the rest of my career. I have more experience now, I’ve found my balance between training and racing. I hope that will allow me to be in shape when I need to be and to get the most satisfaction from racing.
So you know your body better now - how to get the best from yourself?
Everybody’s different, every rider is different, and you need to find where your limits are. I think I found them - that’s why I had some good moments and some bad moments. I’m not 22, 23 years old anymore. I will be 28 this season, so I’ve got much more experience than in the past. That’s why I performed well in 2017, and that’s why I believe I will be able to perform this season too. Every cyclist goes through it.
You were very strong throughout last year’s Tour de France. Would you like to ride GC at stage races?
I would never say ‘No’ to stage races. It always inspires me to train harder and to race better - to one day win, I don’t know, Paris-Nice, or the Dauphiné, or even the Tour. It keeps my motivation high to become a better cyclist and I think that’s what everyone should do as an athlete: aim for something which is not there already. It’s more a dream than a goal, but that’s what has inspired me for the last couple of seasons.
That attitude is why I could win races like Milano-Sanremo, Strade Bianche and Clásica San Sebastián, because of that motivation which forced me to time trial better, to climb better, or learn how I should look after myself during a Grand Tour. That makes me a better all-round cyclist.
So I will try to make another step forward [at stage races], but I would not put aside the Classics because I love them, and there are lots of cyclists in the peloton who combine success in the Classics in the first part of the season with Grand Tours and stage races, and I believe I can do that.
You seem very motivated to do well at Liège–Bastogne–Liège?
It was kind of the same feeling I had before with Milano-Sanremo. I was always there. First time I didn’t finish, second time I didn’t finish - I ended up ‘in the box’ and finished at the second feed zone. But I had a feeling that I really liked the race, although in the end it’s hard to have ‘it in your pocket’ [win it].
I always try to perform well at Liège–Bastogne–Liège but I’ve never performed as I want [he finished third in 2017], because I’d like to win it, and hopefully this season will be different. So the main objective for the first part of the season is Liège–Bastogne–Liège [22 April]. It’s one of the hardest Classics, it’s very difficult, especially after racing La Flèche Wallonne [18 April] and Amstel Gold Race [15 April]. It’s a heavy weekend of racing but winning there would be a dream.
Will you lead the team there?
I don’t think you need to say that, a couple of months before the race. If you believe you can win and you work as a team, you don’t need to say the team will only work for you. We will have cards to play - Wout [Poels] won the race in 2016 and we will have a strong team, and whoever is going to be the best, we’re going to ride for him. But I’m going to be a rider to count on that day - that’s what I’m aiming for.
Do you enjoy early-season races?
You can focus on many things here - actually you can sacrifice more time for interviews! The diet is important, everything you need to think about in the first part of the season. It’s a good time to check equipment, and it’s really good to have a team time trial here - to train with the boys on some different aspects of racing.
It’s not just one climb; we have to take care of how we’re going to race together. We have some new guys - David de la Cruz is here - so we need to spend time working out how we co-operate and understand how we’ll race together.
Of course, when I’m racing, I love to win, but it’s great to start the season here and have a chance to focus on getting everything right for the rest of the season.
What are the key differences in your race programme this season?
In the first part the biggest change is that I race the Tour of Flanders. My programme is similar to last year, but I’ll try to combine Flanders with the Ardennes Classics, which I know is difficult. Two heavy weeks in Italy with Strade Bianche, Milano-Sanremo and Tirreno-Adriatico, then heading for Flanders with no cobbles racing beforehand. But I think it’s do-able when you set your equipment right and you have a good team around you.
Last season I was on the right level to win races, but I think I could have done a little bit more at the World Championships in Bergen. I’m hoping to do the Tour de France, then the Vuelta [a España] and then head to the Worlds [in Innsbruck, Austria]. I never tried it before, riding two Grand Tours in one season. I’m excited and I’m looking forward to that. I know the Worlds course is heavy, it suits climbers more than Classics riders, but in the end it’s a one-day race. With my climbing shape, I think it’s a race to go for, especially with Rafał Majka, Tomasz Marczyński and the good Polish riders. But that race is still a long way away.
As a cycling fan, do you enjoy the live in-race performance data?
I think it’s great. Sharing that information, sharing more details about how we race is good. For us it’s simple, but for fans, especially new fans, the data and what they see on TV is really important. It’s 2018 and it should be normal that there should be some data to accompany the commentary. People need that - an app which gives more information and insight into what’s happening on the road.
How are things progressing with your cycling academy in Poland?
Of course, we’ve got a lot of talented riders in the academy in Poland. But cycling is difficult, even to go through the Under-23 category. There’s so many talented riders, but not many turn pro, but I hope we can work on that. We take care of the riders and let’s hope we can find more sponsors and the money to support them in the Under-23s.
That would be a big step and would help them a lot. I would love to create more opportunities for them to race in Europe and show pro teams how talented they are. I do my best to be open, to try to promote the sport - that’s what we should all do. It’s a great sport and, as riders, if we close ourselves off, it won’t help.