Tour de Pologne preview

The 69th Tour de Pologne (in Polish: Wyścig Dookoła Polski) takes place over seven days –  during the same time as that other race in France – from today (Tuesday 10th) until Monday 16th July. It will be the 19th race on the UCI’s 2012 WorldTour.

The race was first held in 1928 and then sporadically until 1952 when it became a firm fixture on the Eastern European calendar. The event became a ProTour race in 2005 and now draws an excellent international field, particularly of up-and-coming talent. Traditionally, it’s held after the Tour de France, at the end of the July/beginning of August, but this year it has been brought forward a month to avoid overlapping with the Olympics and as such it’s providing pre-Olympic racing for a number of notable professionals, such as former world champions Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Thor Hushovd (BMC).

What kind of race is it?

It’s a seven-day stage race covering 1234.7km from Karpacz to Krakow. Due to the number of Olympic contenders in this year’s race, the organisers claim that they’ve made the route even more spectacular.

The past five winners are:

2007: Johan Vansummeren (Predictor Lotto)

2008: Jens Voigt (CSC-SaxoBank)

2009: Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-NGC)

2010: Dan Martin (Garmin-Transitions)

2011: Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale)

What happened last year?

Last year’s race winner, young Slovakian sensation Peter Sagan (Liquigas) fought to the bitter end on the final day to gain crucial bonus seconds at the intermediate and final sprints to take his first overall win in a stage race, prompting commentators to muse how he’d fare in Grand Tours. [I think we know the answer to that question - Ed].

Tour of Poland 2011 podium l to r Martin, Sagan, Marcato (image courtesy of official race website)

Tour of Poland 2011 podium l to r Martin, Sagan, Marcato (image courtesy of official race website)

Defending champion Dan Martin (Garmin-Cervelo) had taken the overall lead after victory on the penultimate stage, giving him a slender three-second advantage over his nearest rivals, Sagan and Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM). Having won both the 4th and 5th stages, Sagan had led prior to Martin, but lost his advantage after losing time in the closing metres of stage 6, after an attack by Martin and Wout Poels (Vacansoleil).

On the final stage, Sagan and Marcato moved closer to Martin at the intermediate sprint – offering time bonuses to the top three riders – by taking second and third behind Martin’s team-mate Heinrich Haussler who was subsequently demoted for irregular sprinting.

Despite missing out on a sprint stage victory during the race – all four were taken by Marcel Kittel (Skil-Shimano) – on the ultimate conclusive stage, Sagan’s haul of bonus seconds enabled him to take his maiden stage race win. After the race, Sagan confirmed:

I’m thrilled. I have to thank the team, which was also extraordinary today. After the second place in the intermediate sprint I knew that I had to give it my all in the arrival as well. I put in everything I had and fortunately I managed to close out in second place. I knew that I could win or lose this race for only a matter of seconds. I gave it my all and this is the most wonderful victory in my career, because I built it day after day with stubborn obstinacy.

In the race’s other classifications, Michael Golas (Vacansoleil-DCM) was top dog in the mountains, Sagan won the points classification, Adrian Kurek (Poland BGZ) won the sprints jersey and Vacansoleil-DCM finished top team.

1. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) 26:40:01

2. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) +0:06

3. Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:07

4. Wouter Poels (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:23

5. Peter Kennaugh (Sky) +0:25

6. Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) +0:28

7. Bartosz Huzarski (Poland) same time

8. Christophe Riblon (AG2R La Mondiale) s/t

9. Steve Cummings (Sky) s/t

10. Marek Rutkiewicz (CCC Polsat) +0:32

This year’s race

The organisers have expanded the field to 25 teams of 8 riders this year – all WorldTour teams, the Polish national team and six wild cards from the Professional Continental ranks: Colnago-CSF Bardiani, Caja Rural, Team Type 1-Sanofi, Argos-Shimano, Farnese Vini-Selle Italia and Utensilnord-Named.

It all kicks off from the historic town of Karpacz with an undulating route more suited to the climbers. The second and longest stage to Opole – almost 240km – will suit the punchier, more attack-minded rider. The third day features the traditional incursion into the Czech Republic and should also prove  challenging. The fourth day’s much flatter parcours will be one for the sprinters. Thereafter are two hilly stages, which are likely to be conclusive in determining the general classification before the final sprint showdown on a circuit around Krakow.

Who to watch

Young Winner Ancona (image courtesy of Lampre-ISD)

Young Winner Ancona (image courtesy of Lampre-ISD)

Neither last year’s stage winners nor the defending champion are taking part, however, there’s still plenty of existing talent on view in Poland. In particular, there’s a number of  young talented sprinters in addition to the two heavyweights mentioned above, such as John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) and Arnaud Demarre (FDJ-BigMat), not forgetting young stage racers of the calibre of Alexandre Geniez (Argos-Shimano) and Giro d’Italia stage winner Jon Izagirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi). Many of the ProTour teams, such as Astana with Roman Kreuziger and Amstel Gold winner Enrico Gasparotto, are bringing their Giro riders. Left off their respective Tour teams, Linus Gerdemann (RadioShack-Nissan) and Christophe Le Mevel (Garmin-Sharp) could both let their legs do the talking and emulate Jakob Fuglsang (RST), who won in last week’s Tour of Austria.

I’m going to be keeping an eye on the wonderfully named neo-pro, Columbian on Lampre’s squad, Winner Ancona, who comes from a track background and finished 10th overall in the recent Tour of Slovenia.

Race details

July 10th: Stage 1 – Golebiewski Karpacz to Jelenia Gora, 179.5km

July 11th: Stage 2 – Walbrzych to Opole, 239.4km

July 12th: Stage 3 – Kedzierzyn-Kozle to Cieszyn, 201.7km

July 13th: Stage 4 – Bedzin to Katowice, 127.8km

July 14th: Stage 5 – Rabka-Zdroj to Zakopane, 163.1km

July 15th: Stage 6 – Bukovina Terma Hotel Spa to Bukowina Tatrzanska, 191.8km

July 16th: Stage 7 – Krakow to Krakow, 131.4km

The Tour de Pologne starts on Tuesday 10th July and concludes on Monday 16th. EurosportUK will have delayed coverage at 17:30 (GMT) each day.  For live coverage check cyclingfans.com.

Link: Official website

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