Opinion: We can all learn lessons in perseverance from Kasia Niewiadoma

The Canyon//SRAM rider's Flèche Wallonne win has been a long time coming 

It has been almost five years since that Thursday afternoon in Burton Dassett, United Kingdom, when Kasia Niewiadoma last won a road race. The date was the 13 June 2019, and the Polish rider outsprinted Liane Lippert and Lizzie Deignan to the top step of the podium on stage four of the Women’s Tour – in similarly cold and wet conditions as seen in the 2024 edition of La Flèche Wallonne. When Niewiadoma celebrated that day, she did so without knowing she would spend the next half of the upcoming decade searching for the taste of victory again.

It’s this long fight that makes the Canyon//SRAM rider such a likeable winner of Flèche Wallonne. There was the victory at the Gravel World Championships last year, but road racing is where Niewiadoma's heart is, and it's where she has struggled the most to come out on top. The Polish rider has been so close a frustrating number of times; just this season alone she was second at the Tour of Flanders and finished in the top-10 of both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Strade Bianche. Although Niewiadoma shows plucky fight and determination in every single race she starts, she has so often been outnumbered by other teams or is undone by mistimed attacks.

Inspiration should be taken from Niewiadoma’s win on the Mur de Huy today, however, because it was a culmination of years of learning. The 29-year-old has fought criticism on all sides for her aggressive racing style, often looking like the strongest rider in the race but it has just been her tactics, arguably, letting her down at crunch time. She raced Flèche Wallonne with the impressive maturity that only a rider who has had her experience in the sport could.

There were no moves from Niewiadoma early on in the race, instead she waited with patience and simply followed her biggest rivals, only spending energy when it was utterly necessary. When the final ascent of the Mur de Huy rolled round, Demi Vollering of SD Worx-Protime took to the front right at the base of the climb and the Dutch rider tapped out the methodical rhythm that has, in previous years, seen the entire bunch drop off the back of her wheel. But things have changed in the women’s peloton in 2024. While Vollering rode with her nose in the wind up the Huy’s steep gradients, Niewiadoma waited perfectly, patiently behind, never in any danger of being distanced.

The moment came with just under 150 metres of the climb remaining. In her signature style – out of the saddle with her shoulders rocking from side to side – Niewiadoma pushed down the sort of power through the pedals that was fuelled by five years of waiting for this chance. With her teeth gritted, the Polish rider opened up a gap between herself and Vollering, with the Dutch champion unable to offer up any response. Niewiadoma raised one hand in the air with her mouth aghast when she finally realised she’d done it, shaking her head in disbelief. That very feeling is the reason why she’s always kept fighting.

"I really hope that with that victory I inspired a lot of people who are pursuing their dreams for so long, because I’ve experienced a lot of failures, a lot of second and third places, but I never stopped believing that as a team we could win another race. So I do really hope that that race will inspire people to just keep believing, keep pursuing their dreams, because the reward is always there waiting for us,” the Canyon//SRAM rider said in her post-race interview.

Niewiadoma’s long journey to her big win today at La Flèche Wallonne should serve as a reminder to everyone watching that there’s always hope, even when giving up might seem like an easy option. While many counted her out, Niewiadoma has always clung on to the belief she has in her own racing style, never allowing her spark to be dimmed by the opinions of others. The rewards of it all finally came to the Canyon//SRAM rider in the rainy, windswept Ardennes hills today, and it’s hard to think of a more deserving winner.

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