Six years ago on the famed Vuelta a España ascent of the Alto de l'Angliru, a young, tall Dutch climber named Wout Poels finished second in the stage, just ahead of Denis Menchov and Chris Froome. It was a fine performance, but with the GC focus elsewhere, the Dutchman's excellent result didn't have that much media impact.
The 2011 Vuelta was Poel's first Grand Tour finish in 17th, and it suggested he could be a promising contender in his own right. But he became a key support rider for Froome, helping him to Tour de France wins in 2015 and 2016.
This summer, Team Sky rested Poels during the Tour after a knee injury blighted much of his early season. If Poels is selected to return to the Vuelta a España this autumn, he will have some unfinished business on the Angliru, which is the last, and probably the most decisive, ascent of the entire race.
"That day [former Sky rider Bradley] Wiggins had the jersey there and lost it, so I know that climb well, and hopefully we will be able to do a little bit better," Poels told Cyclingnews at the Tour de Pologne.
Poels had also hoped to do a little better on the Tour de Pologne's first summit finish on Monday at Szczyrk, when he finished ninth after strong teamwork from teammate Diego Rosa. He sits eighth overall after four stages. But given the Tour de Pologne is his first race back since the Dutch Nationals on June 25th, Poels is keeping a positive outlook on his progress.
"I don't think it was so bad if you remember how long I haven't raced for. You're missing that punch that you only get from racing," he reflected. "It was not bad. I was with Diego and he gave me a really good pull on the climb, and I was in the right position."
"Some other riders were stronger than me, but there are some hard days coming up and I still feel like I have the confidence to do something and move up overall a little bit."
Poels is cautiously upbeat about his GC prospects in the Tour de Pologne, pointing out that "it's going to be hard with the level of the riders here. But for sure I'm going to try, otherwise you never reach it."
"Wout's doing well, he just needs to get some more racing in to work on the top end form," added Gabriel Rasch, Sky's sports director at the Tour de Pologne. "I think Wednesday will see a break go clear and then on Thursday and Friday, it'll be where the GC is decided."
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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