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

What’s happening in July?

July is unquestionably the biggest month in the 2012 cycling calendar, featuring as it does the Tour de France and the London Olympic Games. But those are not the only races this month, with two distinctly different but equally interesting races in Austria and Poland to look forward to for those unable to take the start-line in Liège yesterday. Aside from Le Tour, here are the key dates for your diary for July – as well as a preview of what’s coming up in the world of VeloVoices this month.

Tour of Austria (1st-8th)

This eight-day stage race kicks off the day after the Tour de France and offers a varied all-round challenge for those unfortunate enough not to have received a personal or team invite to the Tour. Flat stages and a penultimate individual team trial sandwich two major climbing stages – a summit finish on top of the 1,670m hors catégorie Kitzbuheler Horn on stage two, and the HC Grossglockner, a stage finish in the hellish 2011 Giro, on stage four.

Link: PreviewOfficial website

Tour de Pologne (10th-16th)

This year’s week-long Tour of Poland has been pulled forward in the calendar to overlap with the middle of the Tour de France, which is a shame for a race which offers little variety – every stage either involves a bunch sprint or repeating loops of medium mountains – but close, exciting racing which gives us a glimpse of the next generation of up-and-coming stars. The three stand-outs of last year’s race have all graduated to this year’s Tour: Marcel Kittel won four sprint stages and Dan Martin impressed on the climbs here before going on to play a major role at the Vuelta, while Peter Sagan took two stages and the overall by a mere five seconds from Martin. This year’s race will be enlivened by the presence of BMC’s former world champion Thor Hushovd, for whom the lumpy parcours should be ideally suited.

Link: Official website

Olympic road races (28th & 29th)

The men’s and women’s road races take place over the same basic route starting and finishing on the Mall, heading out into Surrey to take on a number of loops – nine for the men, two for the women – each of which includes the ascent of Box Hill, where we can expect a succession of challenging attacks to occur. Mark Cavendish will carry the hopes of the host nation on his shoulders as he seeks to win what should be the first gold medal of the Games in the 250km men’s race. The 140km women’s race takes place the following day, with any one of Lizzie Armitstead, Nicole Cooke and Emma Pooley potential winners.

Both the men’s and women’s time trials both take place on August 1st.

Link: Official website

Look out for full previews in advance of each race here on VeloVoices.

This month’s birthdays

A selection of some of the more notable birthdays in the peloton this month:

Gilbert hits the big three-oh (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

3rd: Nicolas Roche, AG2R La Mondiale (28 years old). The son of 1987 Giro and Tour winner Stephen and cousin of Garmin-Sharp’s Dan Martin is a solid all-round stage racer whose career highlights include finishing seventh at the 2010 Vuelta and a stage win at last year’s Tour of Beijing. He is currently racing at the Tour de France, where he is hoping to improve on his best finish of 14th in 2010.

5th: Philippe Gilbert, BMC (30). The King of Belgium swept all before him in 2011, winning the Ardennes Triple of Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, both his national road race and time trial championships, and the opening stage of the Tour de France – qualifying him for an elite group of riders who have won at all three Grand Tours – en route to finishing as the world’s number one-ranked rider. This year, however, he has been plagued by health and form problems, with a third place at Flèche Wallonne his best result. However, a solid ninth place at yesterday’s opening Tour prologue suggests he may finally be approaching the kind of form which could propel him to another first-week victory.

13th: Jack Bobridge, Orica-GreenEDGE (23). The Australian youngster is already a multiple world champion on the track and won his national road race title as a 21-year old in 2011. He has already participated in two Giros as he continues his development as a road racer. A star of the future.

16th: Andre Greipel, Lotto-Belisol (30). The powerful but softly-spoken German sprinter is a prolific winner, having reached double figures in victories every year since 2008. He has 14 already this year, in addition to a career total of seven wins across the three Grand Tours.

16th: Stefano Garzelli, Acqua & Sapone (39). The veteran climber has performed best in his home country, in particular at the Giro, which he won in 2000. In addition to eight stage victories, he has also twice won the King of the Mountains competition in the twilight of his career, in 2009 and 2011.

27th: Allan Davis, Orica-GreenEDGE (32). The experienced Aussie sprinter has finished second and fourth at the sprinters’ Classic Milan-San Remo. He is also a Commonwealth Games gold and World Championship bronze medallist (in the 2010 road race in both instances) and claimed overall victory at the 2009 Tour Down Under.

Also on the blog

Obviously July is (almost) all about the Tour de France, and we’ll be bringing you comprehensive daily coverage on our new-look blog with the usual VeloVoices twist: the latest results, rider-centric recaps, focus pieces on relevant times and places in the Tour’s history, and in-depth race analysis. But we’ll also be keeping you up to date with events from the races in both Austria and Poland during the month. And once the Tour has finished we will of course be casting our beady eye over the Olympic road events.

As always, Tweets of the Week will bring you all the news that’s fit to print (in 140 characters) every Tuesday, with a distinctively jaune – not jaundiced! – hue this month. And after a week off, our regular Friday Features will be back with more in-depth views from the wider world of cycling. We’re lining up an insider’s view of what it’s like to attend a press conference with some of the sport’s biggest stars, courtesy of photographer Roz Jones – watch out for that later in the month.

And, last but by no means least, watch out for some special pieces from our latest VeloVoice – quite literally, cycling with a bit of Panache!

Whether serious or light-hearted, VeloVoices is the place to come for all the latest cycling news and views! Pro cycling for fans, by fans.