Kwiatkowski Soloes to Victory in Strade Bianche
23-year-old Polish national champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Omega Pharma-QuickStep) earlier this afternoon won Strade Bianche 2014, catapulting himself away from his breakaway companion Peter Sagan (Cannondale) in the final meters of the last climb. Sagan held on to finish second and Alejandro Valverde (Team Movistar - Canyon Bikes) finished third.
Kwiatkowski waited for the perfect moment in today's Italian Classic - the 197 kilometer Strade Bianche from Gaiole to Siena. When Peter Sagan (Team Cannondale Pro Cycling) launched an impressive attack with less than 23 kilometers to go, Kwiatkowski felt so strong that he decided to bridge up to Sagan.
Sagan and Kwiatkowski rode away from the main group of riders and managed to stay away despite a strong chasing group formed behind them, including Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) and Alejandro Valverde. Approaching the final few hundred meters, Kwiatkowski sat on Sagan's wheel as the riders entered the final climb towards the finish line in Siena. Countering an acceleration from Sagan, Kwiatkowski attacked and dropped Sagan immediately before soloing to race victory.
"When I came around the final corner to the finish line in Piazza del Campo, it was absolutely beautiful," Kwiatkowski told RoadCycling.com after being celebrated on the podium. "I did recon yesterday of the finish in Siena, and it was amazing then as well. But with fans and spectators around, it's even better. It's something special."
"I know Sagan has much more experience in a finale like that in the big races. I was watching even the chain ring he was using to make sure I didn't make any dumb mistakes. I was actually surprised he increased his speed up the last climb, he didn't wait until the sprint. He started slowing down a little bit and I realized he was really suffering."
"I went full gas until the end and that's how it was won. I'm pretty surprised as this is probably my best, most emotional victory in my career so far.In one of the longest sections at 80 kilometer to go or so I had a flat tire. I was in the front and it was a nervous moment. I was thinking I really need to be in the front. It was a nervous moment because about half of the peloton was already dropped and with a strong crosswind it was really dangerous," Kwiatkowski explained.
By finishing third in today's Strade Bianche, Valverde became the first Spaniard to access the Strade Bianche podium in the eight year history of the race. Valverde jumped away from the peloton at Le Toffe, the last gravel section located around ten kilometers from the finish line, and after recovering for a short while together with Lampre's Damiano Cunego, Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Trek Factory Racing's Fabian Cancellara, he attacked on the last uphill section to claim third.
"I already stated last year that this was a race I liked, and I confirmed that feeling today," Valverde told RoadCycling.com. "It's wonderful, but still really hard, almost five hours and a half on the bike, even harder this year due to the crosswind."
"It's awful that I couldn't have my best day due to punctures in the gravel sections. They all happened at the worst moments, especially the last one, when the group was strung out and the speed was high. (Teammate) Lastras was the one to help me with the first two