Rafal Majka, the new star of Polish cycling, on Thursday became the first Pole to claim a stage victory at the Tour of Poland in ten years.
"I already broke a record on the Tour de France [he was the first Polish rider to take a stage win since Zenon Jaskula in 1993] and I broke a new record today [Thursday]," the Tinkoff-Saxo rider said at the finish in in Strbské Pleso (Slovakia).
"I didn't have the same legs as in the Tour de France," he added", "but the people standing on the roads and shouting "Go Majka!" gave me an extra motivation. I basically came to the Tour of Poland just for the people."
The last Grande Boucle's King of mountains won on his home race in front of his soon to be wife Magda, who is from the South of Poland, and his sister and brother, alongside an hysterical fan club that the Slovakian police had to contend with next to the podium.
The outburst of joy was so big among the organisers and fans that Majka was wrongly announced as the new overall leader and was photographed as the new yellow jersey backstage, a few seconds before Petr Vakoc (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) was called back to the podium to receive a new leader's jersey. The Czech rider, who got dropped in the last two kilometers, retained the lead by one second.
"This day is a great success and a great celebration for the Tour of Poland," the race's general director Czeslaw Lang told Cyclingnews. "We had four million people watching the television for this stage. The organisation of the Tour of Poland is improving year-after-year and we have already reached a high level. But we were missing strong results by the Polish riders to increase the spectators' commitment. Now I think Majka can help the race to keep raising."
Lech Piasecki, the race's sports director and the first Eastern Europe's rider to the have worn the Tour de France's maillot jaune, in 1987, said Majka "can help the Tour of Poland to hold its position within cycling. Because organizing or racing an event is the same at the end: you must fight to keep your position."
The winner of the 1993 Paris-Roubaix Amateur, Marek Lesniewski was enthusiastic on the same way: "I was more expecting Majka to blossom in two or three years time but he went faster with the Giro, the Tour de France and now the Tour of Poland, all in one year" "I hope this 'Majkamania' will contribute to the renaissance of Polish cycling."
Before Majka, the last Polish rider to claim victory at his national tour was Marek Rutkiewicz, the 11th September 2004, in Karpacz. Poland's contenders have been less and less successful in the last few years regarding their hegemony from the creation of the race in 1928 to the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989: they captured the general classification 42 times out of 46 editions.
Then, from 1989 to 2013, they only won nine times out of 25 – the last final victor is Cezary Zanana in 2003. The decline has been even more obvious since the Tour of Poland has been registered to top division in 2005 (ProTour and then WorldTour): no Polish rider had taken the final standings or a stage victory until Majka emerged this year.
"If we have Polish winners, television and media will pay more attention to cycling as they do it to ski jumping or 50km running," Piasecki says. "It means more people will invest into Polish cycling in the next few years."
Some of the key businessmen in love with cycling took part to the Tour of Poland's evening gala on the basement of Bukovina Hotel, following stage 5. Among the guests there were the presidents of CCC (a shoe company) and Active Jet (a tuners' brand). The former backs the Pro-Continental team of Davide Rebellin and Marek Rutkiewicz – that he was expecting to see finishing third in order to complete a perfect Polish day – and he is expecting to move into the WorldTour sooner or later. The later started a Continental team this year but he is targeting to reinforce his team.
On Friday the two CEO's will ride their bike on a mass event alongside 1000 to 1200 cyclists, around Bukowina, prior to stage 6 of the Tour of Poland. All the participants will stand afterwards on the finish line to welcome the pro riders and support Majka's quest of a second win and the yellow jersey.
Many in Poland – fans, businessmen, organisers, media – dream of a final triumph of the 24-year Polish climber. "This local support is a very positive pressure for Rafal and the natural consequence of his strong ride in the Tour de France," observes his sports director Tristan Hoffman.
"But to be honest I wasn't expecting Majka to win the stage through a sprint," added the Dutch ex-pro rider. "That's not only a historical win for Polish cycling but an new individual step forward for Majka as he showed a very big power in the sprint. Succeeding in such a way is different from his breakaways on the Tour de France."
Team Tinkoff-Saxo is aware that the final victory will be hard to claim considering the strong opposition, especially from the Movistar riders. In case Majka could succeed taking the lead on Friday or on Saturday after the final time trial in Krakow, 2014 would definitely have been a red-letter year for Polish cycling.