Tour de Pologne review: Back to Weening ways

Most of the Tour de Pologne’s pre-race favourites went AWOL, with Orica-GreenEDGE’s Pieter Weening emerging from the field to capitalise. He took the yellow jersey after the final time trial to Kraków, edging out Jon Izagirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Christophe Riblon (Ag2r La Mondiale), and adding a victory to his palmarès for the first time since winning a stage at the Giro d’Italia in 2011.

Race summary

The race started with an bang, opening with two tough mountainous stages in the Italian province of Trentino. For the vast majority of riders – including a couple of the pre-race favourites – the race was over almost before it had started. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Bradley Wiggins both reached the summit finish at the ski resort of Madonna di Campiglio over nine minutes behind stage one winner Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), who sprinted out of a small group of 15 climbers to take the yellow jersey.

Stage two was even harder, with the riders taking in over 200 Italian kilometres and several climbs before the summit finish. Fresh from a stage win at the Tour de France, Ag2r La Mondiale’s Christophe Riblon showed excellent form again, attacking to take a solo victory at the top of the Passo Pordoi by over a minute. Ulissi was nowhere to be seen among the other GC contenders, meaning Saxo-Tinkoff’s young Pole Rafal Majka found himself at the top of the standings before a rest day transfer across the border, and the race’s first flat stage.

After the day’s breakaway was swept up, stage three was unsurprisingly contested by the sprinters. Emerging from the pack with a powerful burst for the line was Thor Hushovd (BMC), with the 35-year-old Norwegian national champion proving there’s still life left in him yet. He outsprinted Mark Renshaw (Belkin) and  Steele Von Hoff (Garmin-Sharp) for the stage win, while Rafal Majka stayed in yellow.

The sprinters had also ringed stage four in their roadbooks, though one man was out to spoil their party. Taylor Phinney launched a late attack, holding off the marauding peloton to record BMC’s second consecutive victory. It was a show of remarkable strength from the American, who was rewarded for working so hard to deliver Hushovd to the line the day before. Majka again finished within the peloton, ensuring he kept his position at the top of the GC.

BMC completed a hat-trick on stage five, as the God of Thunder roared once more. Thor Hushovd beat Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ) and Daniele Ratto (Cannondale) to the line, after a tough uphill sprint. Despite Majka finishing in the peloton, Euskaltel’s Jon Izagirre took ownership of the yellow jersey by a single second. The Basque climber benefited from the Tour of Poland’s bizarre attractivity bonus, which saw seconds awarded to the riders who picked up most sprint and mountain points throughout the day.

The penultimate stage saw the ever-aggressive Colombian Darwin Atapuma (Team Colombia) take the biggest European win of his career, while Christophe Riblon took over the yellow jersey. Atapuma attacked out of a breakaway with just over 10km remaining, before Riblon bridged over to him. Atapuma sat on the Frenchman’s wheel before beating him to the line, though the duo’s advantage was sufficient to ensure Riblon took a 19-second lead over second place Izagirre heading into the final time trial.

Unfortunately for Riblon, his buffer wasn’t big enough. Dutchman Pieter Weening – who had been fifth on GC – surprisingly overhauled his 27 second deficit on the 37km time trial into Kraków to take the overall victory, with Izagirre finishing second and Riblon third. Bradley Wiggins – who had been almost entirely anonymous throughout the race – took the final stage, impressively recording a time 56 seconds faster than his nearest competitor, RadioShack-Leopard’s Fabian Cancellara.

Analysis & opinion

Seeing Vincenzo Nibali and Bradley Wiggins lose over nine minutes on a mountain stage may seem surprising, though closer analysis can offer an explanation. Both riders are returning to racing after post-Giro hiatuses, and both have now started building fitness ahead of their late-season goals at the World Championships – with Nibali targeting the road race, and Wiggins the time trial.

Given that there’s still almost two months before the riders head to Florence for the Worlds – during which Nibali will be riding the Vuelta and Wiggins the Tour of Britain – it’d be more of a concern if they both had rocked up at the Tour of Poland in peak form. That an out-of-condition Wiggins can still comfortably win a TT at a WorldTour stage race definitely bodes well for September, and his hopes for the rainbow jersey.

From two possible future rainbow jersey winners to a former one, 2010 road race World Champion Thor Hushovd was one of the most pleasing performers at this race. Thor has had a barren couple of years and there were growing concerns that he was on the decline in his 36th year. However, with a brilliant couple of stage wins, there’s fresh optimism he’ll be back in contention when the classics come around next spring.

General classification

1. Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEDGE) 31:58:07

2. Jon Izagirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +0:13

3. Christophe Riblon (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0:16

4. Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff) +0:26

5. Sergio Henao (Sky) +0:51

6. Eros Capecchi (Movistar) +0:51

7. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) +1:14

8. Ivan Basso (Cannondale) +1:38

9. Tanel Kangert (Astana) +2:35

10. Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo-Tinkoff) +2:50

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