In an emotional press conference, the Polish rider spoke of how he’ll now fight to keep the polka dot jersey on Carapaz’s back, having won enough points to overhaul Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), as well as dedicating the victory to Nicolas Portal, saying their former sports director is always on the team’s mind.
“We have to live with [Portal not being here] and whenever we are not successful or are successful we always remember him,” Kwiatkowski said, struggling to contain his emotion. “It’s just hard to describe really, we miss him a lot and I know that he especially would have enjoyed that today. I think the spirit that we’ve had through the Tour, we’re inspired by him. So definitely it’s for him.”
With Ineos switching to stage hunting after their defending champion Egan Bernal withdrew from the race earlier in the week, having fallen out of GC contention on stage 15. While Kwiatkowski says he is “not a doctor” and therefore unable to give insight into Bernal’s physical condition, the former world champion said that when people point out the British team may be suffering from the absence of their talented sports director that they obviously know that. Beyond sport, it’s become clear this Tour de France as to just how personal the loss all involved with Ineos has been.
“A lot of people have judged what we’ve been doing at this Tour, and they were saying how we miss Nico in the car, but we know that. We miss him a lot.”
This stage win has salvaged something for Ineos at this Tour, especially due to the manner of how they took it and Kwiatkowski says this year Ineos will just have to settle for being winners of a stage rather than the yellow jersey.
It was last year’s winner of the pink jersey at the Giro d’Italia who will receive most of the team’s and Kwiatkowski’s thanks. Richard Carapaz spent three days getting into the break since Bernal was cracked on the Grand Colombier. Having come within 3km of the stage 17 victory, Carapaz now takes the reward for his efforts in the form of the polka-dot jersey.
Having grown accustomed to being the rider who helped the likes of Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal to victory at the Tour, Michał Kwiatkowski now says he will do all he can to protect Carapaz’s polka dot lead to try and return the favour for the Ecuadorian’s hard work on stage 18.
“I would like to sit with him and drink a coffee, it would be an easier conversation to have but when you’re riding 40km an hour it’s kind of chaotic,” Kwiatkowski said of how he would prefer to divvy up the spoils earned from a hard day off the front of a bike race.
“For Richard, the first goal of the day was to collect those points in the mountain jersey. When Hirschi crashed, Richard basically said I can have the stage but with one condition, that he would have the polka dot jersey in Paris basically.
“I was just talking about celebrating and stuff, but maybe now I need to figure out how to help him defend it.”
The sun was shining in from a window and cutting across Kwiatkowski’s face during his winner’s press conference. Despite having to prepare to ride into Paris without yellow helmets and champagne flutes, this stage win and the hope of the polka dot jersey means the sun is yet to set on Ineos’ 2020 Tour de France.