August is upon us, which means it’s time for seven days of racing (and balloons! more on that in the most recent Recon Ride podcast…) in Poland. The Tour de Pologne is an often unpredictable race that has offered plenty of thrills in the past few years of nail-biting GC battles and daring solo attacks for stage wins. The startlist of the 2015 edition will put plenty of talent on display, with a few big names coming from the Tour de France with aspirations of squeezing a few more drops of form out of their legs, and several other big names working up to Vuelta form.
The 72nd Tour de Pologne opens with a trio of fast-finisher-friendly stages, though scattered hills and technical urban roads could leave the door open for late attackers on all three.
The GC men will need to be on their toes for Stage 4, which includes three climbs in the middle of the day before 30 kilometers of flat run-in to the finish. The uphill tests are categorized 2, 1, and 1, and while a Tour de Pologne Cat. 1 is probably closer to a Tour de France Cat. 2 or even Cat. 3 in terms of difficulty, the three ascents in quick succession will make things interesting regardless.
It’s important to keep the arbitrary nature of climb categorization in mind for Stage 5, where there are officially eight Cat. 1s—still, the stage is 223km in total and after the first 30km there are essentially zero flat kilometers all the way to the finish line. Expect plenty of pretenders to see their GC bids go up in flames on a day like this.
Stage 6 is the queen stage, and it runs along a route the Tour of Poland has taken on for several years running now. The peloton faces a pairing of Cat. 1 climbs (the first about 4.5km and the second 5.5km, both at nearly 6%) a total of four times each, with other smaller lumps thrown in as well. The stage finishes one of those smaller climbs, an uncategorized uphill drag that grades out at around 4.5%. for about 5km.
The now-familiar parcours has been a crucial GC stage in the past several years, though it often plays a weeding-out role more than anything, with small gaps near the top of the leaderboard but then significant ones outside the first 30 or 40 finishers.
The Tour de Pologne finishes with a 25km individual time trial in Krakow. It’s flat as a pancake and will favor the big engines. Any pure climbers hoping for good GC results will be in for tough days on the bike.
The General Classification Contenders
2014 winner Rafal Majka is skipping the Tour of Poland this year, leaving the race wide open. His countryman Michal Kwiatkowski is certainly one potential successor. If Kwiatkowski were to draw up a stage race route for himself, he probably couldn’t do much better than this: classics style climbs and a long flat time trial to close things out. The Ardennes star and elite chrono rider would be a big favorite to excel on the parcours if his form and motivation were at 100%—however, neither one is clear heading into this race. Kwiatkowski was 2nd here back in 2012, but he’s looked a bit rusty the past few weeks. His goals for his home race are unclear. He’s still a favorite because of his peak ability and perfectly-tailored skillset, but recent showings keep him from being an obvious candidate to boss this race.
Movistar’s Ion Izagirre has been runner-up in the past two editions, and his balanced skillset makes him a strong candidate again this year. His team certainly won’t hurt: Beñat Intxausti was 3rd in 2015, and Andrey Amador was 6th, and both riders have flashed great form this year with strong Giro performances (though Amador hasn’t raced since). Izagirre probably gets the team leadership nod due to his past rides at Poland but this is a team that isn’t afraid to support more than one contender should he falter, so watch out for the rest of the squad as well.
Sky’s Sergio Henao has performed well in past editions of the Tour de Pologne, and his strong climbing legs and underrated time trial make him a top favorite in the 2015 running of the race. Henao, like Izagirre, performed well in the Tour of the Basque Country, a race also featuring numerous but not incredibly steep climbs and a critical closing TT. Vasil Kiryienka, good on the hills and excellent in the time trial, is another option, as is Phil Deignan, who took 7th here last year.
Astana’s Fabio Aru is undoubtedly among the biggest-name riders in the race, but form and motivation are completely unknown. This is also not a great event for his skillset. There are no huge climbs for him to open up gaps on his less uphill-inclined rivals, and the flat ITT that closes out the race does not suit hm very well. A GC bid would be a surprise. Well-rounded Dario Cataldo could be a better option for Astana, and Alexey Lutsenko is another alternative.
Robert Gesink was 2nd in the Tour of Poland all the way back in 2007, and he’s coming off a very impressive Tour de France. Gesink is known for his climbing abilities but he’s put in some good riding against the clock this year.
Katusha’s Ilnur Zakarin is on uncertain form at this point in the season, but the overall parcours suits his talents. He’s proven himself a strong climber capable of an excellent time trial.
AG2R’s Christophe Riblon spends most his time racing in a support role for his team’s stable of impressive climbers, but he’s performed very well in the Tour de Pologne in the past and has the all-round skillset to be in the mix again this year. Diego Ulissi took one of his first big career victories at the Tour of Poland in 2013. He’s put in a few impressive time trial result in his career and could have a chance at the overall if he can turn in a consistent performance all week long.
Ben Hermans of BMC is VeloHuman’s Under-the-radar rider for the Tour of Poland. His strong climbing legs often get lost in the shuffle at big-budget BMC, but Hermans has had a great year so far and is coming off a podium performance at the Tour of Austria. In a race with several stages that resemble the hilly spring classics, the Brabantse Pijl winner could find himself well positioned to pick up time on the climbs.
Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Robert Kiserlovksi, former winner Moreno Moser, Davide Formolo, Przemyslav Niemiec, and Jan Hirt are others who could be in the mix on GC.
Marcel Kittel is the marquee sprinting name on the roster but illness had laid him low so far in 2015. Hopefully he’ll get back into shape soon but he hasn’t made any showings of form lately, and until he does, it’s hard to bet on him to succeed on the flat stages in Poland.
There are several fast men on the startlist who could look to step into that marquee sprinter role. Giacomo Nizzolo, Sacha Modolo, Caleb Ewan, and Luka Mezgec are the top names on the list, while Gianni Meersman and JJ Lobato are good bets for bunch sprints that follow slightly hillier days. Matteo Pelucchi, Andrea Guardini, and Tom Van Asbroeck are others who could feature in the high speed finishes.
Watch out for 2014 KOM-winner Maciej Paterski on the hillier days—although the home rider has not been feeling well this past week, he’s had a great year so far and is a definite threat on the intermediate stages. Paterski’s teammate Davide Rebellin, Carlos Betancur, and Alessandro De Marchi are others who could be on the hunt for stage victories on the lumpier days.
VeloHuman Top 10 Overall Favorites
GC Winner: Ion Izagirre
Podium: Sergio Henao, Robert Gesink
Other Top Contenders: Beñat Inxtausti, Ilnur Zakarin, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Christophe Riblon, Vasil Kiryienka, Ben Hermans, Michal Kwiatkowski
Photo by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland (CC).