The former world champion says he had to prioritise the Ardennes races and skip most of the cobbled Classics this year, except the Tour of Flanders
He took a two-week break after Milan-San Remo, preferring not to race the other cobbled Classics E3 Harelbeke, Ghent-Wevelgem and Dwars door Vlaanderen favoured by his Flanders rivals.
“Of course my biggest goal this year is to be in really good shape in the Ardennes, so I was thinking what I should do to be in the best shape,” Team Sky’s Polish star said.
“I was watching those races. There are no regrets that I wasn’t here. It was the best decision to skip those races because they look really tough and that was some hard racing which I would probably never recovered from.”
Kwiatkowski won the Volta ao Algarve and Tirreno-Adriatico stage races this season so far. Taking time off after Milan-San Remo, allows him to arrive ready for three-week run that includes the Tour of Flanders, the Vuelta al País Vasco stage race starting the next day in Spain and the three Ardennes Classics.
Sky chartered a jet to make sure he arrives as fresh as possible in Bilbao for País Vasco.
The rain fell hard and the temperatures remained around 6°C in Belgium over the last week and a half. One of his biggest Ardennes rivals, Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) raced E3 Harelbeke and Ghent-Wevelgem after finishing in San Remo.
Before heading to the Amstel Gold Race, Gilbert will compete in both cobbled Monuments Tour of Flanders, as defending champion, and Paris-Roubaix.
“If I raced Harelbeke all the way though Flanders and, I don’t know, País Vasco, I wouldn’t have recovered for the Ardennes,” he added.
Kwiatkowski rode “heavy sessions” on the Côte d’Azur where he lives, and even began some of those days training early so that he could return home to watch his Flanders rivals.
“I was watching those races and I never took a nap after training,” he explained. “When you’re out for five or six hours, five o’clock is the time you might normally take a nap, but I was watching the finals so I couldn’t. It was exciting racing.”
Kwiatkowski skipped Flanders in a successful 2017 season that saw him win Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo, be the star helper for Chris Froome in the Tour de France and finish things off with a Clásica San Sebastián victory.
Flanders insiders have him marked as a favourite, however. In 2016, he made the winning move after the Taaienberg climb that pulled along Peter Sagan and Sep Vanmarcke. Sagan dropped Kwiatkowski on the Oude Kwaremont and Vanmarcke on the Paterberg to win solo in Oudenaarde.
“Of course, in that moment when I launched my move, I thought that I should go earlier because Geraint Thomas was the main leader at that time. I over-estimated my possibilities and the possibilities of Peter Sagan at that time. It was a strange move,” said Kwiatkowski.
“If I could do it again, I think, I’d try to save more energy. It was a different sort of race that year as a favourite after winning E3 Harelbeke. It was completely different from my past experience racing for Quick-Step as a supporting rider.”
Kwiatkowski will begin Flanders as the leader with star riders supporting including Ian Stannard, Gianni Moscon and new hire Dylan Van Baarle, fourth in 2017.
“I’ve done everything to prepare myself equipment-wise, there will be no surprise with tyre pressure or anything. I think that’s really important to test before you hit the main race which is Flanders,” he added.
“The Ardennes is the main objective, but when I’m on the start of Flanders, I won’t care.”