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Tour de Pologne 'contemplating different scenarios' as they consider changing dangerous downhill sprint finish

Jumbo-Visma’s Dylan Groenewegen (in yellow) was handed a nine-month ban by the UCI for having caused the crash at the 2020 Tour de Pologne that left Dutch road race champion Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) fighting for his life
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The downhill finish in Katowice, venue of a number of Tour de Pologne stage finishes in recent years, may be cut from the race’s route in 2021. The organizers and local officials are in talks over different route scenarios that would avoid riders hitting record speeds in the sprint for the line.

Stage 1 of the 2020 race saw Dylan Groenewegen squeezing Fabio Jakobsen towards the finish line barriers and causing a career-threatening crash with barriers flying and multiple riders coming down.

Race director Czesław Lang and a representative of the Katowice press office confirmed to Cyclingnews that the city will again feature in the 2021 race route but both said it was too early to get into specifics.

“The UCI has ruled on this, it was the rider’s fault. We are contemplating different scenarios, we are talking to the local officials” – Lang told Cyclingnews.

The 2021 Tour de Pologne is scheduled to take place between August 9-15, approximately a week later than in 2019, due to changes in the WorldTour calendar and the Tokyo Olympic Games in early August. 

Details of the 2021 route are set to be revealed in the spring of 2021 but much depends on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At the present moment preliminary talks regarding the race route are being held and different variants are being considered. At this stage there are no detailed information about the finish line venue,” a representative of Katowice’s press office told Cyclingnews.

The crash and the consequences

The slightly downhill finish in Katowice has seen riders hitting high speeds in the final sprints for a number of years. 

In August Dylan Groenewegen’s manoeuvre forced Fabio Jakobsen into the barriers and ended the stage with a massive crash in which multiple riders were brought down. The Jumbo-Visma’s sprinter deviated from his line and closed the door on the Deceuninck-Quick-Step rider. Jakobsen hit the barriers at high speed and sent them and a member of the jury flying. 

The Dutch sprinter suffered severe facial injuries, including extensive damage to his jaw and teeth. He was quickly attended to by the medical services on-site before being hospitalized in Sosnowiec and being placed in an induced coma. He regained consciousness two days later and began his recovery, undergoing several reconstructive surgeries in the process. The 24-year-old was recently seen riding his bike and is hoping to resume full training and race again.

Groenewegen, who suffered a broken collarbone in the crash, apologised and said that the incident “will forever be a black page in my career”. He is currently suspended until May 7, 2021 after being handed a nine-month retroactive ban in November by the UCI.

The finish in Katowice has been criticised by multiple professional and ex-professional riders, as well as the rider’s CPA union. 

Former sprinter Robbie McEwen was disturbed by how easy Jakobsen had broken through the barriers, telling Cyclingnews that “a good barrier set-up has to be solid, it can’t come apart, and it’s got to be heavy. The board on the front of the barrier also has to come down at an angle and meet the road. Everything has to deflect the rider back onto the road.”

Back in August, Lang defended the course set-up, telling Cyclingnews that, “everything was prepared as safely as it could have been” and explaining that “it’s not a crowded sprint. It’s well prepared, riders go through this section three or four times so they can see it in advance.”

While some took to social media in the immediate aftermath of the accident, CPA’s president Gianni Bugno asked the UCI to investigate whether all regulations were followed and urged the Union to make a move on a proposal to introduce a universal and pre-approved standard of barriers in the finish area. 

After consultations with the Professional Cycling Council (PCC), the UCI announced on December 10 that a set of 14 safety measures, including a barrier standard for the race finishes, was agreed upon and is awaiting a green light from Aigle.

Investigations

The incident is still under investigation by the prosecutor’s office in Katowice. 

The probe was opened into unintentionally causing grievous bodily harm, an offence that carries up to three years in prison under Polish Penal Code. It is not clear whether charges will be brought up as the incident occurred during a sporting event.

A spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office told Cyclingnews that the investigation has been extended until February 6, 2021.

“Compiling the evidence necessary for the penal case assessment is still ongoing. Members of the race jury are among the witnesses; the investigators secured the UCI’s documentation, parts of which have been translated from English. In the course of the investigation we are also inspecting whether this stage has been organised (and secured) according to the relevant regulations,” Marta Zawada-Dybek said in an email.

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