Michal Kwiatkowski of Omega Pharma-Quickstep won the Prologue of the 68th Tour de Romandie cycling race, covering the twisting 5.6-km course in six minutes, 22 seconds, four seconds quicker than the next two riders.
It was the 23-year-old Polish rider’s sixth stage win of the 2014 season.
Kwiatkowski finished just ahead of 23-year-old Garmin-Sharp Rohan Dennis, a time-trial specialist, and 25-yeasr-old Giant-Shimano sprinter Marcel Kittel.
Fourth was Trek sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo, also 25, five seconds slower. Multiple World Time Trial Champion Tony Martin, also of Omega, finished a further second back; at 29 he was the old man of the bunch.
The 5.6-km distance was a little too short for TT specialists, and favored the power of a sprinter over the endurance of a General Classification rider—which made Kwiatkowski’s performance all the more impressive.
Kwaitkowski seemed as surprised as everyone else to have finished in yellow. He went out early, set a good time, and had to watch the rest of the field try to beat him—and he knew the fastest riders would go last.
“Yeah, actually it’s a big surprise. I was in good form in the Ardennes Classics but I didn’t know how I would feel today,” he told Bein TV. “That’s the first time I was sitting so much on the hot seat—it’s something special.
“I knew really well the course and I think I did it perfect, every moment of the race. I didn’t go too fast on the first part—I was trying to save myself to the end. I was on the limit on the finish line so I think I did perfectly the race.”
Will he keep the yellow jersey? “I will look for ther GC from day to day,” he said. He didn’t know how well he had recovered from the three tough Ardennes Classics of last week. In fact, he had come to Romandie to support his team mates, not to contest the General Classification.
“Omega Pharma-Quickstep came here to ride for Tony Martin or Thomas de Gendt or Rigoberto Uran. We are looking forward to the next stages.”
Can Kwiatkowski ride at this level for the next five days? If not, he has plenty of team mates ready to take over.
No Flat Roads
The Tour de Romandie is a six-day stage race first of the preparatory stage races where Tour de France hopefuls begin honing their forms. The route, which winds through the French-speaking portion of Switzerland, decidedly favors climbers.
Stage One, 200 km long, includes a Cat One and Cat Two climb, the latter coming 20 km from the finish. Stage Two is shorter at 167 km, and easier, with only a pair of Cat Threes near the end. Stage Three, the Queen Stage, includes four Cat One climbs in its 181 kms. Stage Four is the closest to flat aside from the Prologue—it consists of five laps around a rolling 30-km loop with a Cat Three climb right in the middle.
The race ends with an 18-km time trial, flat save for one huge lump right in the middle. This course will favor the TT specialists but is likely too short for a GC rider with a good lead to lose it in just this one stage.
Launch Pad to a Tour Win?
A good showing at Romandie might bring a disproportionate psychological edge—for the past three years the winner of the Tour de Romandie has gone on th win the Tour de France, starting with Cadel Evans in 2011, Bradley Wiggins in 2012, and Chris Froome in 2013. Of course, success here might also bring undue pressure.
Defending champion Chris Froome of Sky hopes to make a good showing, after illness and injuries have hit him and almost every member of his team this season. All but a few support riders have crashed or fallen ill, and Froome himself has only completed two races this year. He won the first, but only finished sixth in the second. Froome, 28, withdrew from Liége-Bastogne- Liége Sunday with a chest infection. His status is questionable.
Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali has elected not to defend his Giro Italia win to focus on the Tour this year; he will also be looking for a good result in Romandie. Nibali does not have a win yet this season, though he showed decent form in the Ardennes Classics. The 29-year-old Italian has been saving himself for the Tour this year; he will learn a lot about his form at Romandie.
World Champion Rui Costa of Lampre-Merida must also be considered a prime contender for an overall win at Romandie. He too has yet to win in 2014, though he podiumed in Paris-Nice and Volta ao Algarve. The 27-year-old Portuguese rider has back-to-back wins in the Tour de Suisse, so he knows how to win in this terrain.
Michal Kiatkowski is also a GC contender at Romandie. It is unlikely he would have the stamina to stick with the seasoned pros in the Tour, but a Romandie win would be a big boost to his already impressive early career.