Tour de Pologne: After difficult spring, Poels puts late-summer form on display
Dutchman claims final stage and third overall in Poland
Wout Poels (Team Sky) ended the Tour de Pologne much more strongly than he began it, claiming the final stage at Bukowina and coming within a whisker of capturing the overall victory.
After his second place in Zakopane's hilly stage on Thursday and then a victory on a much shorter, punchier climbing stage on Friday, Poels finished third overall, just three seconds adrift of overall winner Dylan Teuns (BMC Racing Team). He also took a ninth place on the race's first summit finish in Szczyrk on Monday.
For the Dutch climbing specialist, such a strong result after a first half of the season blighted by a knee injury has shown that he is hitting top condition just when he needs to do so for the Vuelta a España. Furthermore, although victorious in Liège-Bastogne-Liège last year – Team Sky's first ever Monument win – and in numerous lesser stage races, third for Poels in the Tour de Pologne is also the first time in an eight year career that the Dutchman has cracked the top three on GC of a WorldTour stage race. All this, too, despite no racing since Dutch Nationals in late June.
"It was a really nice stage today, really hard, short but with a lot of climbs," Poels, whose attacks ripped the GC group apart on the third last ascent and almost sank Teuns, said afterwards.
"We had a good team tactic with Diego [Rosa] in the [early] break, but unfortunately it didn't work out how we wanted it. At one point Diego was waiting for me, so I attacked to try to bridge across, so then he could pull for me, but he was also quite tired by that point and when I got there, my own tank was a little bit empty as well.
"Sometimes it's nice to jump across across and then he takes you to the finish, but it didn't work out."
However, Poels was upbeat about his performance in general, recognising that he had ticked more than one box with his final stage win, which netted him a 10-second time bonus that allowed him to leapfrog into third overall.
"But I'm really pleased not just to win the stage, I think this is my first ever time on the World Tour podium in the GC, and of course when you got so close it's a shame you don't win, but if you look at the background of the last few months I have had then I have to pleased with everything."
Next stop is the Vuelta a España, where Poels has now thrown his hat in the ring to act as Sky's Plan B behind Chris Froome.
"I hope I'm going to be the back-up leader next to Chris [Froome] so that'd be a nice position for me. The next two weeks I hope I hear a little bit more about how exactly we're going to do it, but it's always nice to race with Chris and hopefully the Vuelta will go well.
"Then there's maybe the World Championships and then I'll on to Lombardia. It's going to be a good end of the season."
Poels had nothing but praise for his young Belgian rival, saying that the BMC Racing Team rider had thoroughly deserved his win.
"I knew Teuns had won the Tour de Wallonie, but he's definitely taken a real step up this year. He was so strong on the final climb, that was very impressive. It's always hard to defend your jersey but he did a great job."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.