Unsung hero Kwiatkowski finally rewarded with Tour de France win

  • Cycling
  • Friday, 18 Sep 2020

Cycling - Tour de France - Stage 18 - Meribel to La Roche-sur-Foron - France - September 17, 2020. Stage winner Team INEOS Grenadiers rider Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland celebrates on the podium. Pool via REUTERS/Anne-Christine Poujoulat

LA ROCHE SUR FORON, France (Reuters) - After years of riding himself into the ground as a domestique on the Tour de France, Michal Kwiatkowski claimed an emotional victory on Thursday, which served as a reward for his sacrifices and a testament to his importance at Ineos-Grenadiers.

The 30-year-old Pole, who abandoned almost all individual ambition when he joined what was then known as Team Sky in 2016, two years after becoming world champion, was handed the 18th stage victory by team mate Richard Carapaz.

He will now return to his usual role at the coalface, supporting Carapaz as the Ecuadorian looks to hold on to the polka dot jersey and win the mountains classification.

Kwiatkowski and Carapaz were the strongest in the breakaway in the 175-km mountain trek from Meribel and the Pole did most of the work to help the Giro d'Italia champion crest the day's summits in first place.

When it became evident they would not be caught by chasing riders and the peloton, the Ineos-Grenadiers duo had to discuss how the finale would pan out.

"I would have preferred to sit down and discuss it over a coffee but it was not possible," said Kwiatkowski, who dedicated his win to former sports director Nicolas Portal, who died suddenly earlier this year.

"It was kind of chaotic but you know, for today the first goal was to collect points for the mountains classification and when we knew he was going to have it he basically said that I could have the stage."

Both crossed the line together, with Kwiatkowski just inches ahead after a pat on the back from his team mate.

The victory gave Ineos-Grenadiers something to cheer on this year's Tour after their leader and defending champion Egan Bernal abandoned the race on Wednesday.

"I just believe that when you're in the greatest team in cycling, expectations are very high, there is always a matter of winning and (this year) the GC (general classification) went away," said Kwiatkowski, whose tireless work helped Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal in their successful campaigns from 2016-19.

"For many years I was trying to be in the winning team. Some years it means you’re in the squad of the yellow jersey in Paris and this year we've been trying to win a stage in the last week.

"We just always come out being successful out of the Tour. I’m proud of this team, I’m proud of us that we delivered it."

Kwiatkowski will now do what he can to help Carapaz keep the polka dot jersey, although most of the job will have to be done by the Ecuadorian himself in Saturday's individual time trial.

"The condition for me to have the win was that he gets the polka dot jersey in Paris," said Kwiatkowski.

"Now I need to make sure he has it and I’m ready to help him defend that polka dot jersey. Maybe I can't celebrate tonight then."

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis)

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