History repeated itself with another photo finish deciding the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, but this time Ineos Grenadiers came up trumps with Michal Kwiatkowski awarded the win over Benoit Cosnefroy by a tyre’s width – one year after teammate Tom Pidcock was denied by Wout van Aert by a matter of millimetres.
It was Kwiatkowski’s first classics win in over five years and his first success of any kind since that memorable Ineos Grenadiers one-two at La Roche-sur-Foron when the Pole crossed the line arm-in-arm with teammate Richard Carapaz in Stage 18 of the 2020 Tour de France.
Back then, in the midst of a global pandemic and internal Ineos strife following the withdrawal of defending Tour champion Egan Bernal, Kwiatkowski’s race-saving victory for the British team seemed like a symbolic moment: Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz, representing the future of the team, contenting himself with the polka-dot jersey while allowing one of the loyal Sky servants of old secure what was, astonishingly, his first ever Grand Tour stage win.
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It was a reminder, perhaps, of what the Pole may have achieved individually over the years had he not been shoehorned into a collective unit.
Kwiatkowski arrived at Team Sky from Etixx-QuickStep at the height of both his – and Chris Froome’s – powers. The former world champion had notched 13 pro wins at his former team including Strade Bianche and, his last triumph, Amstel Gold. Both races displayed Kwiatkowski’s armoury to a tee: the ability to climb and sprint, here was a slight yet persistent and powerful puncheur in the mould of Alejandro Valverde. A supreme talent, in short, who critics felt was squandered while acting as a mere cog in Froome’s Sky train each July.

Kwiatkowski celebrates on podium with massive glass of Amstel

It wouldn’t be entirely correct to say that Kwiatkowski found himself suffocated at Sky. He did get the chance to ride for himself in those early years and he duly picked up some huge results: E3 Harelbeke in his first season, denying Peter Sagan in his pomp; then back-to-back wins in Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo in 2017 to become only the second rider to do that particular double (Julian Alaphilippe and Wout van Aert have since joined the Pole in the tyre-tracks of Fabian Cancellara).
Kwiatkowski also proved himself in week-long stage races with victories in the Volta ao Algarve, Tirreno-Adriatico and Tour de Pologne in his “winningest” season for Sky, back in 2018. It was perhaps telling that Kwiatkowski’s first Tour de France stage win came off the back of helping teammates Froome, Geraint Thomas and Bernal to consecutive yellow jersey victories. A year later, he was back working for the man in whose arms he took that solitary stage win, with “Plan B” Carapaz riding to third place in Paris following Froome’s departure and Thomas’s latest crash.
You could say that the 31-year-old has almost overseen more changings of the guards at Sky, then Ineos, as the Queen has from Buckingham Palace. This year, he’s been deployed sparingly – albeit largely due to the fact that his calendar was, in his words, turned “upside down” thanks to Covid and subsequent sickness.

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It’s been all the more frustrating given Kwiatkowski finished 16th at San Remo before being waylaid by illness in the Volta a Catalunya. His absence means he has not been spearheading the exciting revamp of the team’s classics squad in the same way that fellow old hands Luke Rowe and Dylan Van Baarle have – although that may change as the focus shifts towards the Adennes and climbing classics, via the cobblestones of northern France.
There’s no denying that Ineos Grenadiers were due a big one-day win before Sunday. Two in the top 10 at both E3 (Jhonathan Narvaez and Van Baarle) and Dwars door Vlaanderen (Tom Pidcock and Ben Turner) was capped by Van Baarle’s superb second place in the Tour of Flanders. Amid those solid results, the towering Turner’s 28th place was the team’s best return at Gent-Wevelgem, which may explain the reported interest in testing Intermarche’s resolve with their emerging star Biniam Girmay.
While it would be a shame to see the 22-year-old Eritrean leave the Belgian team which took a punt on him when Delko folded, it’s abundantly clear that a rider of Girmay’s calibre would help Ineos take another leap forward in the current diversification of their aims and assets. Gone are the days when the Tour de France was the raison d’etre of Sir David Brailsford’s squad – and not simply because of the ageing of his assets combined with the meteoric rise of two superstar Slovenians and the concurrent stalling of Bernal’s progress because of injury and, most recently, the Colombian’s horrific training accident.
Brailsford is currently putting together a classics stable that should rival the best in the business each spring. Youngsters Ben Turner (22) and Magnus Sheffield (19) have slotted in seamlessly into the engine room alongside Narvaez and Rowe, while the likes of Van Baarle, Pidcock and Ethan Haytner, depending on the terrain, are on hand to finish things off. Elsewhere, the likes of Ben Tullett and Luke Plapp have slipped into the stage race squad with ease, helping most recently Dani Martinez take the overall win in Itzulia during a great week in the Basque Country where Spanish tyro Carlos Rodriguez also tasted success.
Pidcock’s digestion issues off the back of Milan-San Remo momentarily threw a spanner in the works but once back the 22-year-old had a solid Flanders Week alongside Van Baarle. In the first race of so-called Ardennes Week, Pidcock was clearly the team’s Plan A – 12 months after many felt that technology let him down in that controversial photo-finish loss to Van Aert.
It was the Olympic MTB gold medallist who put in a stinging attack on the Cauberg ahead of the finale before Kwiatkowski struck out – initially on his own, then alongside Cosnerfroy for the finale. With a man up the road, Pidcock could afford to sit on in the select chase group where a mixture of indecision and gamesmanship played into the hands of the two escapees – hardly a surprise when a certain Mathieu van der Poel is among your numbers.
Pidcock’s presence behind also allowed Kwiatkowski to enjoy something of a free ride in the back wheel of his younger companion, upon whose shoulders the success of the move depended.

Heartbreak for Cosnefroy as Kwiatkowski confirmed as winner after photo finish confusion

And in the final sprint at Valkenburg, it looked like Cosnefroy – on the hunt for both his first pro win outside France and the first WorldTour win of his career – had enough zip after leading out from the front with 200m to spare. But the canny Kwiatkowski proved there was life in the old dog yet – even if he was forced to endure a couple of minutes of finish-line regret when it was first announced that his 26-year-old opponent had taken the spoils.
Think back to Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2020 when another Frenchman, Julian Alaphilippe, famously celebrated a win that wasn’t. At least he had grounds for believing in his own glory. For the world champion had, after all, seemingly won the race – only to be pipped by Primoz Roglic on the other side of the road right at the death. That the Alaphilippe was later relegated to fifth place for erratic sprinting rubbed salt into a wound that was entirely self-inflicted.
For Cosnefroy it was a far more bitter pill to swallow – albeit one not coated in layers of embarrassment. Far from it. Fearing he had been edged by Kwiatkowski, he even slammed his handlebars – the exact opposite of Alaphilippe’s misguided punching of the air – only to be told by officials that he’d won. The poor chap had been celebrating with his Ag2R-Citroen teammates while Pidcock commiserated with Kwiatkowski, the two Ineos riders briefly united in their shared photo-finish torture. Until the images were scrutinised by the race jury and the win was rightly awarded to Kwiatowski.

'I was very sad!' - Kwiatkowski relieved to win Amstel Gold after confusion

“I was super sad because it was all about the win,” Kwiatkowski said afterwards. “Having Pidcock in the front group meant they [my teammates] were all counting on me that I would do the right thing. I was only there to win the race.
“Obviously Cosnefroy did most of the job, but I was pretty sure that having Tom on the back, we could still win the race in a few different ways. It wasn’t up to me to make the gap. So, you know, after the finish line, I learned a little bit last year with Tom, you sometimes have to wait with euphoria, and I still can’t believe it.”
If it was the narrowest of finishes for Kwiatkowski then it’s fair to say the Pole has previous form in such predicaments: his only Monument win came thanks to his superior lunging skills on the via Roma back in 2017 when battling it out with Alaphilippe and Sagan – in what was a three-way tussle between world champions past, present and future.
Victory in his first race back for Ineos will fill Kwiatkowski with confidence ahead of this Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix and the overlapping Ardennes campaign, which continues on Wednesday with De Brabantse Pijl before next week’s Fleche-Liege double-header.
Ineos’ transition from classic also-rans to a springtime force to be reckoned with was developing quietly but assuredly before Kwiatkowski popped up with a reminder of his enduring class. There is still a fair way to go for the Grenadiers – as exemplified by the simple fact that the team’s best results have come from two of the old guard: Van Baarle’s second place at Flanders and Kwiatowski’s win in the hills of Limburg. But the signs are there, in the year of the Wolfpack’s muzzling, that Ineos are building something to rival the likes of QuickStep when it comes to one-day races over demanding terrain (be it cobbles, bergs, gravel or punchy climbs).
Pidcock, Sheffield, Narvaez and Turner clearly represent an exciting future. But it’s a future being ushered into being by the likes of Kwiatkowski and Van Baarle – and a future, indeed, in which these two old hands can still play a part for many years to come.
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