The Tour de Pologne 2019 route has been unveiled this week, with the new highlight set to be an ultra-steep summit finish on stage four that could prove to be a key element in the GC battle for Eastern Europe’s most prestigious bike race.
The ascent, already dubbed the “Wall of Kocierz” is only two kilometres long, but has a middle section averaging 18 percent and several segments at over 20 percent. It has never previously been used in the Tour de Pologne, now set to celebrate its 76th edition this summer.
Time differences in the Tour de Pologne between the favourites on GC tend to be minimal and in 2019 there is once again, as is increasingly the case in Pologne, no time trial. The gaps established at the stage 4 finish, therefore, even if smaller than expected, may well ultimately become critical in deciding the final GC outcome three days later.
Run entirely in the southern half of Poland, the 2019 Tour de Pologne will have a much more familiar starting point on August 3, with the now-traditional flat stage opening up proceedings in the country's former capital of Krakow. Then stage 2 features the its usual fast downhill finish in the nearby city of Katowice.
Stage 3 will once again be ‘the race of the stadiums.’ Not only does stage 3 start in the Slaski football stadium in Chorzow, it then returns for a lap round the stadium midway through the day, and then ends, after multiple laps, outside another football stadium in the town of Zabrze, in what is likely to be the race’s third bunch sprint in three days.
Stage 4, however, with its final ascent of the Kocierz wall, is a very different kettle of fish. “I was impressed. It's a very tough climb,” observed Polish ex-pro Przemysław Niemiec, who went to check out the ascent.
Winner at Lagos de Covadonga on the 2014 Vuelta a España and now working for the Lang Team organization, which runs the Tour de Pologne, Niemiec said: “The most challenging segment is in the middle, it is about 650 meters long with a maximum gradient of 23% and an average gradient of 18%. When the hardest part ends, the road does not flatten, but it continues to rise for another kilometre, with slopes of five or six percent, all the way up to the finish line.”
Stage 5 of Pologne puts the ball back, theoretically, back into the sprinters’ court. However, the shallow but steady uphill gradient at the finish in Bielsko-Biala could see fast all-rounders of the ilk of Michal Kwiatkowski, who won there last year en route to overall victory, gatecrash the fast men’s party.
The final two days on the punishing climbs of the Tatra mountains on Poland’s southern edge are short but will likely decide the race. Although the two starts and finishes, in Zakopane and Bukowina, have often featured in previous editions of the Tour de Pologne, a tough new 4km climb near the finish of stage 6 could take a few riders by surprise.
The relentlessly lumpy finale to stage 7 may well see riders such as Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), who came within seconds of wresting the lead from Kwiatkowski in Pologne’s final kilometres last year, back in the fray once again.
2019 Tour de Pologne route:
Stage 1: Saturday, August 3 – Kraków - Kraków, 136km
Stage 2: Sunday, August 4 – Tarnowskie Góry - Katowice, 153km
Stage 3: Monday, August 5 – Chorzów - Zabrze, 157km
Stage 4: Tuesday, August 6 – Jaworzno - Kocierz, 173km
Stage 5: Wednesday, August 7 – Wieliczka - Bielsko-Biala, 154km
Stage 6: Thursday, August 8 – Zakopane – Zakopane, 155km
stage 7: Friday, August 9 – Bukowina – Bukowina, 132.5km
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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