Sunday marked the first time in Rafa Majka's nascent professional career that he earned a leader's jersey in a stage race and the 23-year-old Pole's timing couldn't be better as the Tour of Poland wrapped up its two-day sojourn in the Italian Dolomites and will resume on Tuesday on Polish soil in Krakow. The Saxo-Tinkoff Pole had two solid days in the Dolomites, with a third place finish on Saturday as part of a 15-rider lead group on the Madonna di Campiglio summit finish followed today with a fifth place finish on the Passo Pordoi.
With stage 1 winner and Tour of Poland leader Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) as well as stage 1 runner-up Darwin Atapuma (Colombia) both faltering on the second straight day in the mountains, the stage was set for Majka to move into the yellow jersey which he did by the slim margin of four seconds ahead of Sergio Henao (Sky), third overall at the 2012 Tour of Poland. Stage 2 winner Christophe Riblon (AG2R La Mondiale) holds third overall at six seconds.
With five stages still remaining, all in Majka's native Poland, the top of the general classification is still tight with the first 11 riders separated by just 20 seconds, but most importantly for Majka when racing resumes on Tuesday's stage 3, 226km from Kraków to Rzeszów, he'll be resplendent in the leader's yellow jersey.
"I am very happy to have the leader's jersey and to be the best Pole in the race for now," said Majka. "It means a lot to me. I like the idea of arriving in Poland with this jersey on my back. It's important for me and for the team, which worked a lot for me today."
"Trentino and the Dolomites have given us two extraordinary stages which will always be a part of the history of the Tour de Pologne," added Czeslaw Lang, general manager of the Tour of Poland. "We experienced some unique excitement thanks to the scenery we rode through, the warmth of the Italian crowds and especially thanks to the efforts of the riders who honored these first two stages of the race in the best way possible.
"I'm also happy because I saw Polish riders consistently up front with Majka, who was already among the best yesterday and who managed to clinch the yellow jersey, thereby offering a lovely gift to all of Poland."
It's been 10 years since a Polish rider claimed the country's national Tour - although Michal Kwiatkowski came close in 2012, second to Moreno Moser by five seconds - but for the moment Majka remains focused on taking the remaining stages one at a time.
"I have the yellow jersey but the next days are going to be a battle," said Majka. [Sergio] Henao is very close in the classification and there are other riders who are a threat. I'm going to do everything I can to defend this prize."
Majka is in his third year as a professional, all with Bjarne Riis's Saxo Bank organisation. He made his Grand Tour debut at the 2012 Vuelta a Espana where he finished 32nd overall. That result was followed by a 7th place GC finish at the Tour of Beijing, where he won the young rider classification, plus a third place result at the Japan Cup to conclude his season last year.
In 2013 Majka enjoyed a breakout performance at the Giro d'Italia where he finished seventh overall plus enjoyed a stint as best young rider while ultimately finishing second in the classification by 41 seconds to Carlos Betancur (AG2R La Mondiale).