Bodnar, Zielinski thrill home fans in Tour de Pologne
Stage win, yellow jersey go to Poles on stage 4
World champion Michal Kwiatkowski has been soaking up the lion's share of home support so far at the Tour de Pologne, waving to his fans from on top of the Etixx-QuickStep bus, fighting his way through scrums at the podium, and being whisked off to interviews left right and centre.
However, stage 4 of the 72nd edition of the race proved that there was more to celebrate than the rainbow bands. A Polish rider, Maciej Bodnar, was victorious on the day and another Polish rider, Kamil Zielinski, pulled on the yellow jersey as race leader. He also pulled on the fuchsia jersey for the mountains classification, while teammate and namesake Kamil Gradek took the blue of most combative rider. It was the day that the Poles took over their home race.
"I'm ecstatic. It's the most beautiful day in my career. I've always dreamed of wearing the yellow jersey for the Tour de Pologne and today this dream came true," Zielinski told reporters after the stage.
"It's a very big deal. In Poland this is huge, everyone is happy here that the representation of Poland has the yellow jersey, it's very good for us."
Zielinski, who normally competes at Continental level with Polish team Domin Sport, is riding here as part of a Polish national squad. He managed to make it into a winning break with Bodnar and Latvian Gatis Smukulis. The 27-year-old, clearly delighted with his jersey, had no regrets about not being able to match Bodnar in the sprint and was just as happy to see a compatriot take the spoils.
"I'm very happy with my second place. Maciej Bodnar won but in a way it's a double success because he's a Polish man. I'm very happy, Maciej is stronger than me and I knew it wasn't possible to win against him.
"I don't want to think too much about the next days. The classification is still wide open and now we're getting into the hardest stages. Now I just want to enjoy this moment. To be here racing for the Polish national team and to have captured this yellow jersey is something extraordinary."
For Bodnar's part, the day also held particular significance. The 30-year-old is wearing the number 1 dossard at this race in place of last year's home winner Rafal Majka, who chose to skip a title defense in favour of preparing for the Vuelta a España.
"For me, it's something special, because I got the number from Rafal Majka, the number 1, and it's the first victory of my career in the WorldTour. It brought me luck and I think I have honoured this number in the best way possible. It's a beautiful day for me," the Tinkoff-Saxo said in front of a scrum of mainly Polish reporters.
Bodnar was always likely to be the strongest in the finale and in the end he accelerated away from his two breakaway companions with apparent ease. But he would not have had the chance to raise his arms had the spirit in the break not been a collaborative one.
"We worked, everyone all together, very very well," he said. "Nobody was here for the ride – everyone was thinking about winning. We believed we could win, so it came down to a sprint in the final and I was stronger. When I started my sprint it was a lil bit wet, it was raining, my back wheel skidded a bit when I look in behind the other riders were a little bit behind so I knew I could win."
Bodnar has no delusions of being able to make up the three seconds needed to take yellow from Zielinski in the mountains on the next two stages. For him, this win, which has come after a difficult season, is enough.
He was second overall at the Tour of Qatar at the start of the year but then failed to finish most of the Belgian spring classics he entered before the big blow of breaking his collarbone at the Tour of California. This is his first race since that day in May.
"At the Tour of California I crashed and it was a really bad moment in my career. It took a long time to recover, so the days like this today pay for everything."
Days like this will also live long in the memory of Polish cycling fans.
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Deputy Editor. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2022 he has been Deputy Editor, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.