By Hedwig Kröner and Susan Westemeyer
In 1992 the Tour of Poland (originally called Wyscig Dookola Polski) was a moderate-sized race of just regional importance organized for amateurs. Thirteen years later it's a fully professional event with the twenty best trade teams in the world obliged to start, as it made the great jump to the highest level this season when it become part of the UCI Pro Tour.
With at least 50 points at stake and a 48 point difference between current standings leader Danilo Di Luca and Alexandre Vinokourov, the Tour of Poland might therefore be a very important race for the final classification of this competition.
On Monday morning however, just before the start of the event, the race already had a lot of problems. Kazahstanis Alexander Vinokourov (T-Mobile), Andrey Kashechkin, Dimitriy Muravyev and Dimitriy Fofonov (Crédit Agricole), all of whom live in France, did not get their visas in time from the Polish embassy, and therefore will not be able to ride the Tour. French team Crédit Agricole will field only five out of eight riders, while T-Mobile has replaced Vinokourov with Tomas Konecny. The awaited showdown between Vinokourov and Di Luca will thus not take place, T-Mobile's press officer Luuc Eisenga confirmed with Cyclingnews.
The visa application was correctly filed, directeur sportif Olaf Ludwig said. "We don't know what happened," said Ludwig, who tried until the last minute to get matters cleared up, but was unsuccessful. "Alexander is naturally hard to replace. He was to be our man for the GC. Now we will focus on stage wins," he summed up the last minute changes.
In addition, it looks like the new ProTour race may start with only 20 instead of 22 announced teams, as the Spanish Illes Balears and Euskaltel will probably not make it to the start today. Apparently, their flights on Sunday were cancelled due to bad weather. The first flight they could take on Monday allegedly arrived in Danzig at 12:30, which wouldn't give them enough time to make the scheduled 12:56 start, and a delayed start was reportedly not possible. However, the Euskaltel team buses were already at the team hotel, but no riders.
The 2005 Tour of Poland will depart in Gdansk on the Baltic Sea and finish on Sunday, September 18 in Karpacz, a ski-resort in the Karkonosze mountains, which has been the final destination of the race since 1999. The race course keeps with the Tour of Poland's "modern tradition", with a direction from North to South. It will be 1246.5 km long - 18km less than in 2004 - and divided into eight stages scheduled for seven days.
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