Existentialism to euphoria: Michał Kwiatkowski on his 'unexpected' Tour de France mountain stage win

The Ineos Grenadiers rider did not expect to survive out front, but he held off the GC riders to take second Tour stage win

Michał Kwiatkowski with his hand on his head after winning stage 13 of the 2023 Tour de France
(Image credit: Christophe Petit Tesson - Pool/Getty Images)

There was a point, as the breakaway approached the Grand Colombier on stage 13 of the Tour de France, that Michał Kwiatkowski appeared to get all existential. It is impossible to say whether the Ineos Grenadiers rider is a fan or reader of Jean-Paul Sartre or Søren Kierkegaard, but he was certainly questioning why he was there, why he was in a 16-man group heading into only the second mountain-top finish of this year's race.

"Throughout the entire day I was thinking about what I was here for, what my objective to be in this breakaway was," the Pole explained post-stage. "We were aiming for a stage win in many other stages, and this one came completely unexpected. I never thought that out of this group I was going to fight for this stage win, because the advantage was really small."

For much of the day, the time gap was hovering around two minutes, before it shot up to four as the break set out on the final climb. Still, Kwiatkowski is not renowned as a climber - while he has overperformed as a super-domestique before, he has never put in this kind of display on a mountain. The victory, and his ability to hold off the charging general classification group, therefore came as a surprise to the 33-year-old.

"I heard from [Matej] Mohorič that we had four minutes from the bottom of the climb," Kwiatkowski said. "I still need to sum this up, it was a bit crazy on the last climb, but I still can’t believe that this was possible. It was amazing to have this win after such a hard tour so far, where I’ve been trying so many times and after so much work to get ready for July. I’m super grateful."

In the end, the Ineos Grenadiers rider attacked with 11.7km to go of the 17km-long Grand Colombier, paced himself, and was able to hold off the likes of Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard, who finished just 50 seconds behind.

"I thought they would come sooner or later," Kwiatkowski said." Tadej and Jonas are on such a level that when I saw they were just three minutes behind me, I thought they’d only need one or two kilometres to catch me. Then, the flat sections and the tailwind, the last 7 or 6 kilometres  were just quick. 

"The first 10km up the climb were tough, I survived those moments, and I was just trying to get into position on that flat section, and that played to my advantage. It was actually great that I rode the Grand Colombier in the past, that helped me a lot for sure."

Michał Kwiatkowski hugs Tom Pidcock

(Image credit: Christophe Petit Tesson - Pool/Getty Image)

What made the result even more special for Kwiatkowski was the fact he had felt so rubbish on stage 12, hanging on at the back of the race. Furthermore, it took a long time into stage 13 for him to believe he had a chance at the win, his second Tour stage.

"I thought for the first 120km that I was a passenger here, and I would have to support Carlos [Rodríguez] or Tom [Pidcock] on the last climb, or maybe before. Then all of a sudden I heard we had four minutes, and I thought I’d have a go, and I’d pace myself from the bottom to the finish. 

"It was euphoria when I heard we had an advantage, and when I caught the guys. It was intense, to start to realise 'shit I can win this stage’. In half an hour I had completely different emotions, it’s crazy. I had the worst day on the bike yesterday at this Tour, I was really suffering on the bike, and today I had the best legs. It’s all upside down. It’s completely strange, and different emotions."

The Pole has one of the most complete palmarés of the peloton: the World Championship road race, Milan-San Remo, two Tour de France stage wins, the Amstel Gold Race and a Tour of Britain stage. And yet, one can't help but feel that he could have won more, had an even bigger trophy cabinet, had he not moved to Team Sky in 2016 and effectively put his ambitions behind those of the team. He has regularly been one of the best teammates of Sky/Ineos' leaders, with less opportunities to win himself.

However, Kwiatkowski did not countenance the feeling that he missed out, that he could have done more over his career, and who can blame him.

"I don’t live with the past, it’s not the way to do it," he said. "I always look ahead, think positive about what’s coming. I don't really focus on what I’ve achieved or what I didn’t achieve, it doesn’t really matter. I’m trying to live and think about what I can do tomorrow, what I can do after the Tour with my family, where I can go on holiday. 

"Yesterday was yesterday, that’s it, today I want to celebrate. My career is my career, my decisions. I can’t live in the past, it’s unhealthy to think about the decisions you made and where you came from. I’m happy with where I am. Today I’m on the podium, and I’m happy."

After his day on the podium, normality will return for the 33-year-old on Saturday, back in the service of Rodríguez and Pidcock, who are fourth and eight on general classification, respectively. 

"I do think it’s possible for them to finish on the podium, they could even win the Tour," Kwiatkowski said. "You never really know. So far, they’ve done a great race and we’re just going through the process with them, and the entire team believes they can improve. 

"The other rivals can just have bad days and we can have good days. Based on that, we’re trying to win the Tour. Jonas and Tadej are on a high level, but you never know. We always aim high. I don’t think they lost time today, so hopefully Saturday and Sunday, they can push on."

Back to his day job, Kwiatkowski might spend less time wondering why he is there, why he exists, but he should remember that he deserves to be at the front of the race, and can still challenge. The existentialism is unnecessary. 

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Adam Becket
Senior news and features writer

Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.