“The Tour of Flanders was an amazing experience. It’s a race which I could only watch on a TV in the past and now, I had a chance to take part in it. It’s for moments like this you work so hard,” Kamil Gradek explains.
Early in Gradek’s cycling career, as a junior and U23 rider, cyclocross played a big part in his development and the technical skills gained in CX races have come in handy in the cobbled Classics. Gradek may have turned his attention to the road, but he still likes to revisit his CX roots and dusts off his CX bike in the winter and go for a spin on the forest trails.
“I always watched the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix when I was a kid or a teenager. I grew up watching great champions, like Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara battling against each other. I say jokingly that even though this year’s Tour of Flanders was my debut, I didn’t feel like a rookie. I knew the course very well just from following the race on TV. I knew how to tackle certain climbs and which side of the road I should ride on” he explains.
Gradek is also well prepared for Paris-Roubaix. Together with his teammates, he did a recon of the most crucial sectors. “I had heard a lot about those cobbles, how tough and brutal they are and I was prepared for the worst but, I was pleasantly surprised with how I felt. I know that training and racing are a completely different story, but I feel I’m ready. Paris-Roubaix is a unique and unpredictable race and as my teammates have told me, not having a mechanical or a puncture is already a big success.”
Steping up to the WorldTour
Before joining CCC Team, Gradek spent two seasons racing at ProContinental level. He got a taste of what it’s like to compete against world class riders but, being part of a UCI WorldTour team comes with different challenges, responsibilities and goals he admits.
“We learned about CCC stepping up as a title sponsor of the UCI WorldTour team during our training camp in Livigno, in July. I knew that it could be a huge opportunity for me. I was very motivated to showcase myself in the second part of the season, to try to get a spot on the team. I got confirmation just before the UCI Road World Championship Team Time Trial, which definitely didn’t hurt and gave me a little boost for the TTT.
A Monumental Challenge
Due to his ability to perform on cobbled terrain, Gradek was part of the long list for the Classics. His efforts and hard work were recognized by the team’s management which saw him selected for the most important spring races. Now, he’s one of the key domestiques for Greg Van Avermaet.
“From the very beginning, from the first training camp, I made sure to be as professional as possible. I was paying attention to every detail of my preparation hoping that it would benefit me in the future. I knew that the team was keeping an eye on me for the spring classics but it will be difficult to make the roster. I kept working hard and doing my best to fulfill my responsibilities during the races. I guess the team’s management noticed that and had faith in me. I always dreamed about taking part in one of the Monuments. I already made that come true last week and now I’m lining up for the second one, which is amazing.”
Tackling the Cobbles
With only six riders lining up in support of Van Avermaet, the role of every rider is precisely defined. Gradek is responsible for the first phase of the race, covering dangerous breakaways and taking up his position at the front of the bunch to control the race situation. His stature, standing at almost two meters tall, makes him perfect the job. It’s a job for hard men.
“I’m responsible for the beginning of the race, when you have to quickly analyze the situation, see who’s trying to get in the breakaway and decide whether to chase or let the the break go. Then, I protect the leader and try to deliver him to the key parts in the front of the group and as fresh as possible” Gradek explains.
Stepping up to WorldTour not only means a different role, but also a different goals and challenges. “I never had such a clear leader on the team, who is one of the main favorites in the most prestigious races, so it was quite a transition for me. That comes with a bigger pressure and responsibility. The fact that I get to support the Olympic champion and Paris-Roubaix winner is something I never even dreamed of” he says.
As we write this, a little over 100 kilometers into Paris-Roubaix, Gradek has found himself in today’s breakaway. You get a sense that he is at home on the cobbles.
Photo courtesy of CorVos