The Tour de Pologne on Tuesday carried out its daylong tribute to Bjorg Lambrecht (Lotto Soudal), who died on Monday afternoon after a crash during stage 3, with his teammates crossing the stage 4 finish line in Kocierz ahead of the rest of the field.
A finishing arch, made entirely of black and bearing Lambrecht's name and Pologne race number 143, was erected at the top of a long wooded climb deep in the countryside of southern Poland.
Ahead of the peloton, the six Lotto Soudal riders rode to within 50 metres of the finish, then dismounted and stood, arms round each other in a long line across the narrow hill road for another minute's silence.
Then, to scattered applause from the dozens of fans waiting at the summit, the six remounted and headed through the finish area to the privacy of the Lotto Soudal team bus, situated a few metres further on at the top of the climb.
"This homage was something we had to do today," race organiser Czeslaw Lang told reporters afterwards. "The public came here, too, to pay their respects."
Lang also confirmed that stage 5 of the Tour de Pologne will proceed as normal, but he suggested that Pologne's usually high-octane and noisy post-stage ceremonies could be toned down in continuing respect for cycling's loss.
Following Lambrecht's fatal accident on stage 3, the UCI, race organisers and the teams decided late on Monday to suspend normal racing and instead treat the stage as an homage to the Belgian rider.
Tuesday's stage was reduced from 173 kilometres to 135 kilometres, with the final ultra-steep ascent originally planned substituted by a straightforward uphill climb to a hilltop hotel and spa where the finish was situated.
As had been the case at the stage 4 start, once again at the finish in Kocierz, there were no post-stage ceremonies or festivities. Instead, the race MC, dressed in a sombre suit rather than his usual bright yellow race gear, provided a low-key running commentary on images shown of the race on a giant outdoor screen as the peloton slowly approached. Also out of respect to the rider, the logos of the Tour de Pologne on the TV screen, also usually in fluorescent yellow, were changed to black.
During the four-hour stage through rolling terrain, team after team took to the front for a few kilometres in the warm, dry day, keeping the pace at a steady 30-35 kph as planned. But as was also planned, with the stage neutralised, there were no attacks or racing, simply a steady march to pay homage to Lambrecht.
On the roadside, occasionally fans held up pieces of paper or a white sheet with Lambrecht's race number and name daubed on, whilst in the final kilometre, TVs at the finish switched to a full-screen image of the last known photo of Lambrecht, taken yesterday morning at the stage 3 start in Chorzow's Slaski stadium.
In the final 10 kilometres on Tuesday, Jumbo-Visma took the penultimate turn before swinging off and letting Lotto Soudal riders pedal ahead of the bunch and up the final climb to the finish.
After the minute's silence, most riders simply turned around and descended to the team buses down the road they had come up, mostly located a few kilometres away on the far side of the hill.
A decision on whether Lotto Soudal will continue in the remainder of the Tour de Pologne has yet to be made, but a team staff source says it will be taken by Wednesday at the latest.
Normal racing for the Tour de Pologne will resume on Wednesday, a 155-kilometre hilly leg from the Wielizcka salt mine to the town of Bielsko-Biala, identical to stage 5 last year that ended with a reduced bunch sprint. Pascal Ackermann (Bora-hansgrohe) continues as race leader.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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