Local racer Tomasz Marczynski (Lotto Soudal) took an emotionally charged lead in the Tour of Pologne's King of the Mountains competition on Thursday, as the Belgian squad battles to honour teammate Bjorg Lambrecht, who died earlier in the race.
Marczynski, 35, made it into a four-rider breakaway of the day early on, along with Simon Geschke (CCC Team), Petr Vakoc (Deceuninck-QuickStep), and Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R La Mondiale), and then focused hard on snatching as many KOM points as possible.
Urged on by enthusiastic local fans, the Polish racer clawed his way over the ultra-steep first category Pitoniowka climb for a final time with 45 kilometres to go.
Having claimed maximum points on the ascent, he weaved across the road, clearly on the verge of exhaustion, before falling back amongst the rest of the peloton, finishing 54th and more than 15 minutes down.
But Marczynski's mission of the day was accomplished. After a tough stage with more than 3,000 metres of vertical climbing in 160 kilometres and 20 abandons, Marczynski goes into the final stage with 30 points, eight more than his closest pursuer and – like his teammate Jelle Wallays, in the break the previous day – having done Lambrecht proud in the process.
Visibly tired and feeling the emotional strain, Marczynski told reporters afterwards that it had been a very tough day.
"[It was] hard to get in the break, but I wanted to do it for Bjorg," he said. "We are thinking about him a lot. We're continuing in this race. We want to fight for Bjorg and show our fighting spirit to everybody."
A former double Vuelta a España stage winner back in 2017 and also a former double winner of the King of the Mountains in Pologne in 2012 and 2013, Marczynski promised he would do his utmost to win the classification outright for a third time.
"Tomorrow, I will try and keep this jersey for him," he said, simply but effectively.
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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