"He will be there again to fight with the biggest riders" says Omega Pharma-QuickStep sports director Tom Steels

Michal Kwiatkowski was disappointed with fifth place at Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, but the Omega Pharma-QuickStep team remain firmly optimistic about the rest of his season. The 23-year-old rising talent has already won Strade Bianche and two stages and the overall in the Tour of the Algarve this year so far.

Tom Steels, former rider turned Omega Pharma sports director, comforted the Polish talent after the 251.4-kilometre race through The Netherlands’ south. Afterwards, he stepped off the bus to the sounds of the race announcer’s voice bouncing off the other buses and down from the finishing straight.

“He will be there again to fight with the biggest riders,” Steels told Cycling Weekly. “He has his age on his side. He’s still young for that type of long, hard race but he’s proving that he’s going to be a competitor for the next years. He will win it but when, we don’t know.”

Kwiatkowski looked ready to win. Omega ordered world time trial champion, Tony Martin to pull the pack for him. It sent Zdenek Stybar up the road to mark an escape. And it had Pole Michal Golas drive his compatriot to the base of the Cauberg.

Samuel Sánchez attacked and drew out Kwiatkowski and Simon Gerrans. Sánchez’s team-mate and race favourite, Philippe Gilbert, countered just under 2.5 kilometres and rode away solo for the win. The move was similar to the one that won him the World title on the Cauberg in 2012.

Kwiatkowski preferred to shower first. Afterwards, he stepped from the team’s white, blue and black bus in a grey hooded pullover and knit cap.

“Sánchez went and I was thinking, ‘Why wait? It’ll be just a couple of seconds and we’ll be on the top.’ Actually, though, it’s a long way to the top!” Kwiatkowski explained.

“I’m happy that I placed fifth because I improved from last year. I made a better start to the Cauberg and I could follow guys.”

The entire team shared his happiness. The fifth place underlined its changed approach. This year, Kwiatkowski took the classic route via the Tour of the Basque Country to the Ardennes Classics instead of racing the cobbled classics. He also spent the winter and early season working towards these goals: early season wins and the Tour de France.

“He’s focused. He’s 23, but he’s not fooling around like a small kid. He’s benefiting from his talent and hard work,” performance director, Rolf Aldag explained.

“If you see how much time he spends away from home just to secure that he has good sunshine, good weather and good mountains to train on, that’s pretty unique for riders that age. He’s hardly at home in Poland, and mostly racing or in Calpe, Spain. He’s investing in his career and we are proud. That’s the new generation of cyclists, they understand that there’s a limited time that they do have and they need to work hard to get that.”

The investment could pay off in the Tour of Romandy or the Tour de France. Or it could already show this week in Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

“In every race he’s gaining experience,” Steels added. “He can bounce back well from Amstel Gold and be back again, he has the character to do so.”