Kwiatkowski to show off rainbow bands at 72nd Tour de Pologne

The 72nd edition of the Tour de Pologne kicks off on Sunday and world champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep) is set to be the headline act.

The 25-year-old rode in the Mini Tour de Pologne event as a child and, after finishing second on GC in 2012, will have the chance to show off his rainbow jersey in front of home support.

“I would really like to race here wearing the world champion’s jersey along the roads of my native Poland," he told the Tour de Pologne website. "It would really be something special, a dream come true and which I’ve had since the first time I pedalled right here in the Mini Tour de Pologne children’s race.”

Fellow Pole Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) will not be back to defend the title he won last year, despite that victory giving him a “joy I can’t describe”. The Tour of Poland is one of the more demanding week-long stage races and, like last year, will start out with three flat stages before the terrain gets increasingly hilly.

The route

Whereas last year’s route drew inspiration from the 25th anniversary of free elections in Poland, this year the aim is to unite the two capitals of Poland: the actual, modern capital, Warsaw, and the historical and cultural capital, Krakow.

The race kicks off with a short, flat stage across 10 laps of a 12.2km circuit on the streets of Warsaw before heading south for two stages in a similar vein. Stages 2 and 3 both feature multiple laps of a finishing city-centre circuit and seem destined to end in bunch gallops.

As was the case in last year’s edition, the early sprint-friendly stages make way for the hillier terrain and stage 4 features three categorised climbs, the last preceding a flat 30km drag to the line in one of Lesser Poland’s oldest towns, Nowy Sacz.

The climbing then begins in earnest as the riders enter the mountains of southern Poland for stage 5, the longest in the race at 223km. There are no fewer than eight categorised climbs on the parcours before the short uphill finish in Zakopane, including Gubalowka, Zab and "the hill of hunger", Glodowka.

The penultimate day in Bukowina marks the queen stage of the race and features four gruelling laps of a finishing circuit that features the category 1 climbs of Zab and Sciana Bukowina. The GC won’t be decided on the summit finish of Bukowina Tatrzanska, though; the final days holds in store a flat 25km time trial on the streets of Krakow, once a stronghold of Polish kings and the capital of Poland from 1038 to 1569.

The contenders

Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), who won last year thanks to two stage wins in the mountains, would have been a strong favourite this year but has chosen not to defend his title. That should bolster the confidence of Ion Izagirre and Beñat Inxausti, the Movistar duo who were second and third on GC last year.

Astana's Fabio Aru makes his return to racing for the first time since finishing second at the Giro d’Italia in May as he winds up for Vuelta a España later in August, while the route will mean that a stage win will be a more realistic prospect than GC for Kwiatkowski. Other GC men to watch out for include Tour de Romandie winner Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Soudal) and Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo), though the Dutchman may be fatigued after riding to sixth overall at the Tour de France.

There are plenty of climbers peppering the startlist, among them Darwin Atapuma (BMC), Christophe Riblon (AG2R), Sergio Henao (Team Sky) and Davide Formolo (Cannondale-Garmin).

Let’s not forget, though, about the opening three stages, which all provide opportunities for the sprinters. Marcel Kittel will be looking to notch a first victory of the season after missing out on Tour de France selection in what has been a torrid, illness-plagued 2015.

On his day the German can be matched by very few but his form is still a complete unknown and the likes of Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek), who won the points jersey at the Giro, Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida), who won two stages of that race, Andrea Guardini (Astana), and Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) will all be looking to take advantage.

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