The 71st edition of the Tour de Pologne gets under way on Sunday August 3 with the race marking the anniversary of 25 years of free elections since the fall of Communism. 2013 winner champion Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge) is set to defend his title but will face stiff competition from the Tinkoff-Saxo duo of Roman Kreuziger and Rafał Majka, Fabio Aru (Astana), Warren Barguil (Giant-Shimano) and Trek's Robert Kiserlovski.
The 2014 edition of the race marks the 25th anniversary of free elections in Poland which will be marked by the race starting at the number 2 gate of the Gdansk shipyard, the site of where the Solidarnosc Solidarity Movement got started on its long march towards bringing freedom and democracy to Poland. Former President and leader of Solidarnosc, Lech Walesa, will signal the start of the race from the shipyard.
The 18 WorldTour and three wildcard teams will cover 1200km over seven stages, with the first half of the race to suit the sprinters.
The fifth stage of the race will cross the border into Slovakia for the first time in its history. The 180km stage starts in Zakopane and ends with an uphill arrival in Strbské Pleso. The following day is the 'queen stage' with riders to face several climbs on the familiar circuit in Bukowina Tatrzanska for a total of 175 km.
If not decided in the mountains, then the winner of the race will be decided against the clock with a 25km time trial in Krakow ending the 2014 edition.
General Director of the Tour de Pologne, Czeslaw Lang, was present at the pre-race press conference and extended his gratitude for all the support the race has received.
"First of all I want to thank our riders, we waited for them for many years," Lang said. "21 years ago the Tour de Pologne began to chase the professional peloton and five years ago we made it to the World Tour series. We now have riders who can compete on a global level. We know we are going to enjoy a beautiful event."
Fresh from his debut Tour de France in which he won two mountain stages and the climber's polka dot jersey, Rafał Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) is keen to shine on home roads and improve upon his fourth place from last year.
"I will start in the Tour de Pologne not just to go for a ride, but to fight," says Majka. "Nobody knows how this battle will end, but my team and I will certainly try to make sure everything goes well and we hope that we can win the Tour de Pologne. All the stages will be important, not only the ones in the mountains. On flat sections it will be windy, the peloton can break up and we need to be constantly watchful.
"After the victories in the Tour de France, my life certainly has changed, now everything is moving very fast. I do not have time for myself and my family, but I know it will pay off in the future".
Current Polish national time trial champion Michał Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) was second overall on his last appearance in the race in 2012, but due to fatigue, the 24-year-old won't be racing this year but was on hand to help launch the race.
"Together with my team we have decided that I will not start in the Tour de Pologne," explains Kwiatkowski. "The reason is increasing fatigue. I had an intense first part of the season, and during the Tour de France fatigue came out. I plan to rest now; if I can I would like to go out on the lake. I will be making appearances at different stages in the Tour de Pologne. For sure I'll be in Torun, my city, and then Gdansk, Bydgoszcz and perhaps in Krakow.
"I keep my fingers crossed for all Poles, my teammates and especially for Rafal Majka, who showed that he has what it takes to win the Tour de Pologne. I have positive feelings after the second Tour de France in my life. I tried to fight every day. I think Rafal and I backed each other up and delivered a lot of emotions to fans in Poland. From this race I gained a lot of experience that will pay off in the future."