News feature, September 8, 2005
Final test before the World's or crucial race within ProTour?
In 1992 Tour de Pologne (originally called Wyscig Dookola Polski) was a moderate race of just regional importance organised for amateurs. Thirteen years later it's a fully professional event with the twenty best trade teams in the world obliged to compete in it.
Since Czeslaw Lang (first professional cyclist from Poland, member of several Italian teams: Gis Gelati, Carrera, Del Tongo and Malvor, between 1982-1989) took charge of this race, it has slowly progressed from an open race (between 1993-1995) via a professional event of fifth (1996-97), fourth (1998-99), third (2000-01) and second (since 2002) category status, before making great jump to the highest level this season when it become part of the ProTour. Such advance ranks the TdP among the ten most important week-long stage races on the international calendar.
The promotion can already be seen in the quality of the field that will compete in the 62nd edition of the Tour de Pologne. Four of the top ten men from the individual ProTour rankings will be present with competition leader Italian Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas), no. 4 Kazakh Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile), no. 6 American Bobby Julich (Team CSC) and no. 8 Italian Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner). Interestingly, in the concurrently run Vuelta a España, only the last two riders from this elite top-10 list are riding. With at least 50 points at stake and "just" 48 points difference between Di Luca and Vinokourov, the TdP - and the last stage race on the ProTour calendar - might be a very important race for the final standings of this competition.
The 2005 TdP will start on Monday, September 12 in Gdansk at the Baltic Sea coast and will finish on Sunday, September 18, where it has concluded ever since 1999, in Karpacz, a ski-resort in Karkonosze mountains. Gdansk will host TdP Grand Départ on Dlugi Targ street, famous for its magnificent renaissance architecture, for the fifth consecutive time; this time, though, it will happen almost exactly 25 years after creation of the 'Solidarity' freedom movement in the very same city. The parcours, which was presented on March 15 in Warsaw's Sofitel Victoria hotel, keeps with the TdP's modern tradition: a north-south direction, about 1200 kilometres long (1246,5 to be exact - 18 less than in 2004), and divided into eight stages scheduled over seven days.
The first four stages are generally flat and considered to be a sprinters' paradise. Each of them (in Elblag, Olsztyn, Bydgoszcz and Leszno) will finish with four or five circuits about 7km long, giving cycling fans in these towns a better chance to watch the stars of the world peloton. With so many chances to shine, many speedsters are coming to Poland to test their legs before Madrid's world championships; to name just a few: Daniele Bennati (Lampre), Baden Cooke and Berhard Eisel (Française des Jeux), Robert Förster (Gerolsteiner), Robert Hunter (Phonak), Jaan Kirsipuu (Credit Agricole), Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis), Luca Paolini and Filippo Pozzato (Quick Step). Intel's Adam Wadecki (current road champion of Poland) and Jaroslaw Zarebski will form Polish opposition to the quality field.
As usual, the real hills in this race will start on Friday during the long fifth stage to Szklarska Poreba. On that day, riders will first have to tackle Kapela pass at km 135, and then four more hills at the beginning of each 11,7 kilometre-long loops around Szklarska. There is also an uphill rise to the stage finish where Italians Franco Pellizotti, Ruggero Marzoli and Rinaldo Nocentini have proved quickest the last three years. Typical sprinters will find this stage too hard for their liking, but some all-rounders who are quite fast and can still get over minor hills should be in their element.
Still, everything will probably be decided on the weekend. Saturday's sixth stage is by far the hardest. It should be the best opportunity for riders like Di Luca, Vinokourov, Julich, Rebellin or other overall contenders such as Michael Boogerd (Rabobank), Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), Juan Carlos Dominguez and Fabian Jeker (Saunier Duval), Cadel Evans (Davitamon), Serhei Honchar (Domina Vacanze), Serguei Ivanov (T-Mobile), Jörg Jaksche (Liberty Seguros), Vladimir Karpets and Alejandro Valverde (Illes Balears), Kim Kirchen (Fassa Bortolo), Inigo Landaluze (Euskaltel), Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) and twice second in 1999 and 2001, Jens Voigt (Team CSC) to decide about the race outcome.
Although it's only 153km long, this stage consist six 21,7 kilometre-long laps around Karpacz with 450 metres of total elevation on each of them plus a nearly five kilometre-long final ascent to Orlinek station, with some additional 320 meters of climbing. Last year, this stage was remembered for fine efforts of two young Polish riders: Przemyslaw Niemiec (Miche), who, with an epic break, secured his win in mountains competition, and Marek Rutkiewicz (now Intel-Action), who won this queen stage and took the leader's jersey for a while. Niemiec and Rutkiewicz should again be prominent riders in this year's race, but Intel-Action can also count on its experienced trio of Cezary Zamana (winner from 2003), Piotr Wadecki (second in 2000) and Tomasz Brozyna (winner in 1999), who just recently dominated Hessen Rundfahrt with first, third and sixth place overall.
Sunday's morning short stage (61 kms) is scheduled on a very much the same course, but with just two full laps around Karpacz plus an uphill finish to Orlinek station. Despite the short distance it can be decisive, as Frenchman Laurent Brochard (now Bouygues Telecom) proved in 2002, or at least be a vital step to a final victory, as it was last year for Czech giant Ondrej Sosenka.
Finally, just to secure high drama right to end of the race, on Sunday afternoon there's still a 19km time trial starting in Jelenia Góra and finishing on a already very well known ascent to Orlinek (800 meters above sea level). Current Athlete's world hour record holder Sosenka won this trial three times in last four years, but course record belongs to very promising Spaniard, Alberto Contador, who clocked a time of 30:29 in 2003.