Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) took another step towards winning the Tirreno-Adriatico overall today. In a cold mountain-top finish in Lazio, the 24-year-old Pole kept a loose grip on the favourites, including stage winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), to preserve his blue leader's jersey.
"I'm really happy that I'm still in the leader's Jersey," Kwiatkowski said. "We expected some big attacks from Contador and [Nairo] Quintana, and they did it. They really pushed me to the limit but I'm really thankful to Wout Poels and Rigoberto Urán because they really did a good job for me, they set a good tempo on the last climb and I didn't lose so much time."
He finished the 14-kilometre climb near Rome 10 seconds behind Contador. He maintains his overall lead by 16 seconds the Spaniard from Madrid, 23 on Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and 34 on Richie Porte (Sky).
Kwiatkowski dressed warm to protect himself from cold air but he has been on fire this season. He won in the Challenge Mallorca, the Volta ao Algarve overall classification and the Strade Bianche one-day race. If he wins Tirreno-Adriatico, he will take his first WorldTour victory.
Tirreno-Adriatico ends in three days on the Adriatic coast in San Benedetto del Tronto. The biggest challenge between Kwiatkowski and the overall remains a wall, tomorrow's stage finish up the Muro di Guardiagrele. The final 2.95 kilometres includes a 610-metre-long ramp with gradients of 30 per cent and a 22.2 average. The final 250 metres kicks again at 12 per cent to arrive at 593 metres and the finish line in Guardiagrele.
"He has this day and tomorrow where he can gain seconds on the GC, so that's normal that he wasn't to try to win," Kwiatkowski added. "He's the biggest contender for winning the whole Tirreno."
Contador won his second race of the year and with bonuses, put 20 seconds into Kwiatkowski. He relied on the help of team-mate Roman Kreuziger, who attacked early. He then responded with last year's Tour de France runner up, Quintana.
Kwiatkowski took the overall lead thanks to the team team trial win on day one and yesterday's second place behind Peter Sagan (Cannondale) in Arezzo. Today, he had to rely on Wout Poels to haul him to the top because Urán suffered.
Sky's Richie Porte, fifth on the stage, had Bradley Wiggins pulling in the valley and Mikel Nieve beside him on the climb. He sits fourth overall at 34 seconds.
"Now we are all going to be watching Alberto and seeing how he goes tomorrow," Porte said. "It's good for the cycling fans to see him winning again. This year, maybe he can take it up to Froome [at the Tour de France] a little bit more than he did last year."
Kwiatkowski too. Besides helping Cavendish in the sprints, he will try to better his 11th place in his debut Tour ride last year. Based on his progress and results this year, he should have a chance. First, he will try to hold on and to win the Tirreno-Adriatico.
Michal Kwiatkowski hangs on to overall Tirreno-Adriatico lead as Alberto Contador moves up to second
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