From Despair to Triumph: The Inspiring Journey of Kamil Małecki

“I killed myself. My body is dead,” was all the exhausted shell of Kamil Małecki managed to articulate from his depleted body at the rain-soaked finish line in Oudenaarde. He had just clinched a remarkable 14th place at Ronde van Vlaanderen.

1 April 2024.
@Chris Auld

A result his shattered self couldn’t quite believe. He had completed one of the hardest feats in professional cycling: 280kms across hellish cobblestones of the Flemish cycling holy land, in inclement weather. And yet, this was the easiest part of the gruelling endeavor. His muddy, beaten body looked half-dead, but in reality, this was the most alive Małecki had felt in over 3 years.

To understand the significance of his top-15 placing in the mighty Ronde, we have to go way back. His monumental journey began with a devastating training accident in November 2020, which left him with a shattered pelvis and collarbone, threatening to extinguish the flames of his cycling career just as they blazed brightest. The long road to get back on the bike was gruelling. He first had to learn to walk again before embarking on an odyssey of rehabilitation to reclaim his rightful place in the saddle.

But Małecki never lost his spirit, and with steadfast determination and resilience, he once again lined up for a bike race in August 2021, an important milestone, the first of many in a non-linear journey to full recovery and competitiveness.

The next year, the then 26-year-old Polish rider managed to race a full competitive season, but in December 2022, found himself without a contract and facing the facing the daunting specter of unemployment. Without any offers on the table, Małecki’s forced retirement was imminent, but in January, Q36.5 Pro Cycling Team threw him a lifeline and offered him a contract, igniting a flame of hope that would illuminate his path to glory. He was chosen as the 24th and final rider for our teams roster in its maiden season.

Małecki’s reputation as a hard worker, his versatility and all-roundness, as well as being a great teammate, were the determining factors for our team to take him onboard on a one-year deal.

@Chris Auld
@Chris Auld

I killed myself. My body is dead!”

Throughout 2023, Małecki worked hard and was a crucial domestique to many of his teammates’ achievements. With unwavering commitment, he devoted himself to getting back to his best competitive shape while still struggling with physical challenges. His tenacity and work ethic made him a valuable asset across both classics and stage races. He was racing for his career, and after Il Lombardia in the fall, he received the reward he had diligently worked for: the team renewed his contract for 2024.

During the pre-season, Małecki did what he does best: got to work. After a good few months of solid training, he started his season in Antalya, where he gave his best to support his GC teammates. Then he pivoted to the Classics, where he was a constant fixture in our line-ups. His mandate was always to race in a support role and, on occasion, Team Captain. No matter the weather or the parcours, Małecki consistently made it across the finish line in every race, embodying the “no-DNF” mentality that paved the way for his incredible performance at Ronde van Vlaanderen, his first Monument of the season.

At the Team Presentation ceremony in Antwerp, Małecki was all smiles. He had unfinished business at the Tour of Flanders after being forced to abandon his maiden participation in 2023. The previous week in Gent-Wevelgem, he delivered a spirited performance of profound grit which earned him a 31st place in a decimated field. His form was good, his drive undeterred. He was ready for a second dance at one of the hardest, most revered bike races in the world: Ronde van Vlaanderen.

The plan was for Małecki to support teammate Jannik Steimle deep into the final in the hellish Bergs of the Flemish countryside. He would also take on the role of race captain. He was ready.

As the race unfolded, Małecki rode bravely, jostling for position in key sectors and keeping his teammates out of harm’s way. As Steimle and Fabio Christen were hampered by mechanicals and crashes, Małecki powered up the inferno of successive bergs and furiously pushed the pedals to stay with the main group. As the kilometers ticked by and the race claimed an increasing number of victims, Małecki kept himself in the game. His skillful maneuvering allowed him to stay in the wheels when the action ramped up and the rain mercilessly started to come down on the depleted peloton.

“I tried to eat and drink as much as possible, but it was so, so hard. I was scared to take my hands off the handlebars because of the speed and effort we were going at. I did the whole Tour of Flanders with just five bidons,” said a bone-tired Małecki after the race, underlining the physical limits one has to push to simply complete this mammoth race.

After avoiding some hairy mishaps and being held back by a few crashes in front of him, Małecki fought back each time. Like most, he was forced to dismount and run up the muddy cobbles of the Koppenberg. “I ran so fast on the Koppenberg. It was actually lucky we had to run; I made up a lot of ground to the riders in front. I might try cyclocross this off-season,” shared Małecki jokingly.

At the final climb of the day, the merciless Paterberg, Małecki found himself in an elite chase group, ahead of pre-race favorites like Mads Pedersen and Matteo Jorgensen. It was a blur of a fairytale disguised as a nightmare. After nearly 270 of the hardest kilometers he had done in his life, our Polish warrior found himself in a position to sprint for a top-15 place in a Monument, a feat of epic proportions under any circumstances but truly remarkable when you look back at his long journey.

In the long stretch to the finish line in Oudenaarde, Kamil Małecki mustered every ounce of energy he had left in his empty legs and sprinted to 14th place, his heart pounding in rhythm with the deafening applause from the crowds. Everyone has their story, their own finish line. This Sunday, 14th was a loud, thunderous victory, of how hard work pays off and about how you should never, ever give up, even when the odds are stacked up against you.

@Chris Auld
@Chris Auld

With his body doubled over the handlebars and exhaustion evaporating in a mist above his crumbled and muddied body, Małecki’s piercing turquoise eyes never shone so bright. He had defied the odds, stacked sky-high like rough cobbles, and emerged as a true Monument man.

“I killed myself. My body is dead. I don’t want to see my bike for a week! I’m so happy! The crowds were amazing!” the words seeped in exhaustion after the six-hour ordeal he had just endured.

If someone had told the broken, bedridden Kamil Małecki back in November 2020 that he would be fighting it out with the best cyclists in the world for a top result at Ronde van Vlaanderen, arguably the hardest race in the calendar, he would have called it a silly fantasy. This Sunday, our shy, considerate, and soft-spoken Polish warrior turned that fantasy into reality.

As he stood amidst the wreckage of his shattered body, Małecki knew that he had not merely conquered a race, but his own inner demons. For in the depths of adversity, he had discovered the true measure of his strength, his courage, and his indomitable will to succeed.

It was the first time Kamil Małecki rode 280kms. It was the first time he finished Ronde van Vlaanderen. This is his story of redemption. A beacon of hope and inspiration to all who dare to dream the impossible dream.