Spurred on by a partisan crowd, Rafal Majka put the icing on the cake of his exploits at the Giro and the Tour with a race-winning performance at his home tour that mixed flair and grit in equal measure. His climbing prowess propelled him into the overall lead before today’s final time trial stage, but it was his dogged determination which brought him to overall victory by just eight seconds.
You could have been forgiven for thinking the opening half of this race would be a carbon-copy collection of bunch sprints. You’d have been wrong, though. Weather (stage one’s apocalyptic storms scattered the roads with both foliage and lycra-clad detritus) and some long days (three of the first four stages were at least 226km) combined to promote exciting, unpredictable racing.
So on a crash-marred stage one we had Yauheni Hutarovich (Ag2r La Mondiale) demonstrate his strength on a draining finishing ramp. The following day Petr Vakoc (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) overpowered his two break-mates, winning with a long solo attack as the peloton got their timing horribly wrong.
This had a knock-on effect in stage three, where the sprint teams were so determined to make up for their gaffe that they hurtled into the finish town of Rzeszow like a rocket-propelled grenade and burned themselves out. The experience of Belkin veteran Theo Bos came to the fore in the resultant free-for-all to notch his 35th pro win,
Only stage four really qualified as a routine bunch sprint, with Lotto-Belisol’s 27-year-old Jonas van Genechten clocking up only his second career victory.
With its placement in the racing calendar between the Tour and the Vuelta, the Tour of Poland is often a showcase for emerging talent. Although not entirely unknown at the time, the 2011 race provided a springboard for both Peter Sagan, who won two stages and the overall, and a young Marcel Kittel, who bagged four victories and hasn’t looked back since. 2012 saw Moreno Moser match his teammate Sagan’s feat with two wins and GC victory – the following spring he soloed to victory at Strade Bianche.
In a similar vein, remember the name Petr Vakoc. He’s only 22, but his strength, stamina and determination were impressive for a rider of his youth. Have the Czechs unearthed the next Zdenek Stybar? It’s too early to say for sure – thus far he’s been primarily used as a cog in sprint trains – but a stage win, four days in yellow and tenth overall mark him out as one to keep an eye on. He’ll certainly receive a good apprenticeship at OPQS.
Majka the mountain king
If the initial stages of the race belonged to Vakoc, then the second half was one big homecoming party for Rafal Majka. Sixth at the Giro, the 24-year-old was a reluctant late conscript into Tinkoff-Saxo’s Tour de France squad after Roman Kreuziger was red-flagged by his biological passport. Two swashbuckling wins later, he stood on the podium in Paris resplendent in polka dots as the first Polish winner of any of the Tour’s major jerseys, with the promise of an Aston Martin from Oleg Tinkov to boot.
Having completed two grand tours in quick succession, it would have been understandable if his legs had been a little heavy this week. But if they were, it wasn’t obvious. Majka put on a show on the race’s two mountain tests, demonstrating that he has more than one arrow to his bow. He won the uphill group sprint on stage five by staying calm and holding back his attack from fourth wheel until the last moment. Then on the penultimate stage, on the kind of saw-toothed parcours that fills sprinters’ legs with lactic acid just looking at the road-book, he accelerated hard on the steepest 22% section of the day’s major climb to bridge to Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) and split the elite peloton. And he still had enough in reserve to launch a decisive solo attack with 2km remaining which propelled him to victory by ten seconds (plus time bonuses) and into the yellow jersey.
That gap made all the difference. He took leads of 18 and 22 seconds over the Movistar pair of Benat Intxausti and Jon Izagirre into the final stage. Majka is never going to be mistaken for Tony Martin, but his slender cushion gave him just enough to hold on to. Izagirre charged to seventh-fastest time behind stage winner Kristof Vanderwalle (Trek) but Majka finished the 25km course having conceded just 14 seconds to a vastly superior time trialist. It was a performance every bit as impressive as his two stage wins,
Majka’s attacking flair and a range of grimaces that may one day rival Tommy Voeckler were just as much a joy to behold here as they were in the Alps and the Pyrenees last month. He’s no flash in the pan. Tinkoff-Saxo now have a second genuine GC leader who still has room to grow and develop.
I wonder what Oleg’s going to buy him next time?
Race in numbers
4 – Career stage wins for Rafal Majka. All four have come in the last three weeks – two here following a brace at the Tour de France.
3 – Movistar riders in the top six: Jon Izagirre and Benat Intxausti were second and third, while Andrey Amador leapt to sixth after a strong final time trial.
2.4 million – Number of giant inflatable balloons used to promote sponsors along the route of this year’s race. (Okay, I may have made that one up, but it was a *lot*.)
Stage 1: Winner – Yauheni Hutraovich (Ag2r La Mondiale). Leader – Hutarovich.
Stage 2: Winner – Petr Vakoc (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). Leader – Vakoc.
Stage 3: Winner – Theo Bos (Belkin). Leader – Vakoc.
Stage 4: Winner – Jonas van Genechten (Lotto-Belisol). Leader – Vakoc.
Stage 5: Winner – Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo). Leader – Vakoc.
Stage 6: Winner – Majka. Leader – Majka.
Stage 7: Winner – Kristoff Vanderwalle (Trek). Overall winner – Majka.
1. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) 30:16:18
2. Jon Izagirre (Movistar) +0:08
3. Benat Intxausti (Movistar) +0:22
4. Christophe Riblon (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0:34
5. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) +1:20
6. Andrey Amador (Movistar) +1:21
7. Philip Deignan (Sky) +1:24
8. Robert Gesink (Belkin) +1:41
9. Dominik Nerz (BMC) +1:42
10. Petr Vakoc (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +1:49