TOUR DE POLOGNE - THE INDEPENDENCE RACE
The 75th Tour de Pologne UCI World Tour took place between August 4th and 10th of 2018. This race was a special event in that it occurred on the centenary of Poland regaining its independence, and the fact that the race itself celebrated its 90th anniversary and also the 25th time that its organizer was Czesław Lang. Starting in the event were such stars of the international peloton as Michał Kwiatkowski, Fabio Aru, Thibaut Pinot and Simon Yates. The starting point for the 75th Tour de Pologne race was the Main Square in Krakow. The first section of the race over flat terrain favoured the sprinters. After crossing the finishing line in Krakow, Katowice and Zabrze, the peloton entered an upland terrain, resulting in rapid changes in the general classification. The stages in Szczyrk, Bielsko-Biała and Bukowina Tatrzańska proved decisive for the final order in which they finished. Traditionally, the efforts of the best professional cyclists were watched by millions of fans, with those spectators stationed on the route creating a fantastic atmosphere for this great cycling event. To mark the centenary of Poland regaining its independence, a mobile Tour de Pologne museum appeared at the finishing line of the various stages, an attraction that proved enormously popular.
A POLISH RACE AND A POLISH VICTORY
The hero of the race’s first section was Pascal Ackermann. The German sprinter of the Bora-Hansgrohe group achieved brilliant finishes in Krakow and Katowice and won the yellow shirt of leader. At the third stage in Zabrze, he was relieved of this trophy by another great sprinter – Alvaro Jose Hodeg Chagui from the Quick-Step Floors group. However, when the race entered the uplands, it was Michał Kwiatkowski, the favourite of Polish fans, who took matters into his own hands. This cyclist of the Sky group achieved a spectacular finish in Szczyrk, where he fought off the previous winner of the Tour de Pologne Dylan Teuns and took the lead. A day later, the Pole was also the fastest in Bielsko-Biała, where again he was up against Teuns. The advance he achieved made it possible for him to control the course of the race on the royal rounds around Bukowina Tatrzańska. In both stages he was in the lead group and was able to enjoy a final victory at the finishing line. Kwiatkowski became the second Polish winner of the Tour de Pologne after Rafał Majka since the race has belonged to the elite UCI World Tour series.
"It's a fantastic feeling to win in Poland, especially since it has been my dream for so long. I have been waiting for this win since 2012, when I took second place in the race. This time, I was not sure of my form due to the very tough Tour de France that had had its effect on my legs. The race was difficult from the very beginning, but especially from the stage in Szczyrk. Starting in this race were a lot of great cyclists who were aiming for the general classification, so from that moment on, I had to actively fight to hold on to the yellow shirt."
"The support from fans at every kilometre of the route was extraordinary. Having them at my side, shouting my name, was very motivating. And I’d like to thank them for that. Thanks are also due to my team-mates, especially Michał Gołas and Łukasz Wiśniowski, who have been with me for years and played an important role in this victory. I would also like to express my appreciation for the whole team, for their great work during this race."
EXHILARATING ALL THE WAY TO THE FINISH LINE
Between 29 July and 4 August 2017, cyclists competed in the 74th Tour de Pologne UCI World Tour. The 1122 kilometres of the race were split between seven stages.
This was one of the most interesting and thrilling races in the history of our national Tour. Rafał Majka, Peter Sagan, Vincenzo Nibali – were just some of the great stars on the starting list. Beautiful Polish cities along the route. And excitement right until the end, as the race was decided literally just before the finish line. The route took cyclists across southern Poland, however this time it was set somewhat differently.
Kraków, the city which was home to the end of the race in recent years, was chosen as the starting point, and the finish line of the last stage was in Bukowina Tatrzańska. Sprinters, climbers and all-rounders had plenty to get their teeth stuck into along the way. We witnessed high drama, tears of joy, hundreds of thousands of spectators along the route of every stage and millions following the progress on television. And the 75th, jubilee Tour de Pologne, the 25th under the watchful eye of Czesław Lang is coming next year. The bar has been set really high, but we will undoubtedly scale it in pristine style with our reliable partners.
EXHILARATING ALL THE WAY TO THE FINISH LINE
In the opinion of numerous experts, Dylan Teuns, winner of the 74th Tour de Pologne is yet another cyclist whose career will take off and, in a few years, people will remember that it all began here. That's what it was like for Alberto Contador and Peter Sagan. The 25 year old Belgian was first across the stage three (Jaworzno - Szczyrk) finish line, where he successfully battled against great world class peleton stars (Sagan and Rafał Majka) right up to the finish line. And that says a lot about his abilities. He stuck close to his most dangerous rivals throughout the next stages, and when the Slovakian champion, and overall leader hit his brick wall during stage six, all Dylan had to do was not to squander his 6 second lead over the Pole. He managed. Majka crossed the finish line in third place with a 4 second bonus. However, that wasn't enough, as Teuns was right behind him and won the general classification with a 2 second lead.
I won a stage and the general classification for the first time in a World Tour race. For me, it was a wonderful competition. The fact that I took the yellow jersey from Tim Wellens makes it even better. It is just amazing that I won the Tour de Pologne a year after my very good friend did.
This race will be one for the history books. The golden era of Polish cycling has returned. I am convinced that at the finish line in Bukowina Tatrzańska we celebrated a racer who will shortly join the ranks of the world's best.
And that reinforces the tradition of Tour de Pologne as the place where cycling stars are born.
TOUR DE POLOGNE’S NEW HISTORY
The Battle of Warsaw from 1920 and the famous "Miracle on the Vistula" are the events that commemorated the 73rd Tour de Pologne. It was also a tribute to cyclists of the Warsaw Cyclical Society who defended their homeland in their own way - as cyclists of couriers carrying orders.
The race started from Radzymin on the 12th of July 2016 under the slogan "The path of history". In seven days the riders have covered 1190 kilometers. On July 18th, crowds of cycling fans watched the finale on the Krakow Main Market Square. As soon as the winners received congratulations for the Tour, the ladies started their race. This is how a new chapter in the history of the Tour de Pologne has opened.
The winner takes it all. This is the best summary of the 73rd Tour de Pologne, which was won by Tim Wellens from team Lotto Soudal. His prize was not only a yellow jersey, but also awards for the best mountain and most active rider.
The Belgian won only one stage, but a very demanding one - from Wieliczka to Zakopane. The cancellation of the the penultimate stage in Bukowina Tatrzanska (due to bad weather) made the victory in the race easier for him. "A victory in the World Tour in such a great race with a very good organization - I'm happy. We were not lucky with the weather, so we could not race in such conditions, it made the decision to cancel the stage right. This was my first Tour de Pologne. Everyone said it was a very good race, with an interesting route. I can confirm it" said Wellens at the finish in Cracow.
With excellent mountain riding skills and a decent finale in the individual time trial, the Belgian rider has beaten Italians Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo) and Alberto Bettiol (Cannondale) by more than 4 minutes. The best of Poles - Pawel Ciesik (Verva Action) was 19th.
TOUR DE POLOGNE WOMEN
Jolanda Neff also took great memories from Poland. The Swiss was unrivaled on two of the first three stages in the Tour de Pologne Women's history. Only during the ITT she had to recognize the superiority of the Brazilian Flavia Oliveira. Her finish in Bukowina Tatrzańska was the final touch.
"I wanted to control the course of the race. After the first lap I had some losses to the runaway Rjabchenko, but I managed to do it. On the second lap I could go my own way. I am extremely happy with the victory and how I presented myself here. And I have never won a car before!" said the 23-year-old European Champion of the 2015 Olympics in Baku, who after the race signed a contact with the Polish Kross Racing Team. The Polish rider also did a great job - Paulina Brzeźna-Benkowska ended up right next to the podium.
The 72nd Tour de Pologne UCI World Tour was held on 2-8 August 2015. The race’s motto was "Linking capitals". The 1,076 kilometre long route led from Warsaw to Kraków. The race started on the grassy area around the National Stadium in Warsaw, and ended on the Main Market Square in Kraków. This not only linked the two capitals – the present-day and historical - but also two symbolic places, combining our country’s great tradition with the modern-day achievements of contemporary Poland. Thus the race evoked the history of the Tour de Pologne that before World War II had become one of the most important sporting events in Poland, with Warsaw and Kraków being essential points on the route. Today on the other hand, it is a top cycling event, being one of the most important races of the prestigious UCI World Tour.
Winner of the 72nd Tour de Pologne was Ion Izagirre from Movistar. Even before the start, this Spaniard was considered one of the favourites. Izagirre is well acquainted with the Tour de Pologne, and in the last two races won places on the podium, twice coming in second.
This time he was first, though he failed to win any of the stages. His overall form enabled him to achieve this success, though the differences between the leaders were minimal. Coming in second was the Belgian Bart de Clercq, who lost to the winner by just two seconds. At the finish line in Kraków Izagirre said: "I am very pleased to win the race, it gives me enormous satisfaction. The hardest were the stages in the mountains – in Zakopane and Bukowina. Probably harder than last year, and certainly the weather contributed to this. This is a World Tour race, with the best teams in the world competing. The organization is excellent and the Polish fans are just fantastic".
BIAŁOBŁOCKI FOR DESSERT
Polish riders managed very well in the race, but this time failed to repeat Rafał Majka’s feat of winning the 2014 event. Maciej Paterski enjoyed a victory in the Best Climber classification, while the Most Active Rider of the race was Kamil Gradek. The most "Polish" stage was the fourth, from Jaworzno to Nowy Sącz. This was won by Maciej Bodnar, and the leader, unfortunately only for one day, was Kamil Zieliński. Meanwhile a real sensation was Marcin Białobłocki, who won the final stage – the individual time trial in Kraków. At the finish of the stage, he had this to say: "It was very hard, which wasn’t helped by the temperature. I enjoyed the fast route, but really I was literally melting during the race. I prepared for the Tour de Pologne with some backbreaking workouts. I rode several races really hard, regardless of the results. My coach gave me such a hard time that I simply hated his guts. I told him that if this doesn’t bring about success, it would be the end of our relationship. But the hard work paid off".
THE 25th ANNIVERSARY OF FREE ELECTIONS IN POLAND
The 71st Tour de Pologne UCI World Tour was held on 3-9 August 2014. This special edition of the event took place on the 25th anniversary of the famous June 4th elections, which were a turning point in the history of Poland and Europe. The race symbolically joined in celebrating a quarter of a century of Poland’s freedom. The riders took off from Gate No. 2 of the Gdańsk Shipyard, and the honorary patron of the start was the founder of Solidarity and former president Lech Wałęsa. During the race’s opening ceremony, he recalled those historic achievements: "It was a great victory, which needs to be remembered. To combine sport with a message and respect for the past is a beautiful thing. We participated in a work that changed Poland, Europe and the world. Thanks to people like Czesław Lang, the world remembers that great Polish success". The race’s route led from the Baltic Coast to the Tatra Mountains, and the riders visited among other places Bydgoszcz, Toruń, Warsaw, Kielce, Rzeszów, Katowice, Bukowina Tatrzańska, Zakopane and Kraków.
THE AMAZING MAJKA
The race’s sprinters shone during the early, flat stages: Yauheni Hutarovich won in Bydgoszcz, Theo Bos in Rzeszów, and Jonas van Genechten won in Katowice, crossing the finishing line at the Spodek Arena at a speed of about 80 km/h. The stage in Warsaw ended with a surprise, when it was won by breakaway Petr Vakoc following a single-handed escape. But the hero of the Tour de Pologne’s mountain section was Rafał Majka. First, he won a difficult stage with its finish line in Strbske Pleso, and a day later he left his rivals behind on the royal lap around Bukowina. Following a fantastic attack on the final climb, he overtook two Spaniards, Beñat Intxausti and Ion Izagirre and won the leader’s yellow jersey. Before the decisive time trial in Kraków, the Polish contestant had an 18 second advantage. He rode very well, kept eight seconds of that advantage and won the Tour de Pologne, as well being the first Pole to win a World Tour race.
It was the hardest day of the race. I gave it my all and now can barely stand. But I love this kind of weather, it can be as hot as 50 degrees, and I still like racing in the heat. I believed I had a good chance and the day before, I was able to make up quite a few seconds, and now have accomplished something great. It's a beautiful thing, not only for me but for the whole Tinkoff-Saxo team, who were all sensational. Thanks to everyone who did everything so that I could focus only on riding. I didn’t even have to carry my own suitcase.
As the organizer, I always dreamed of the Tour de Pologne being in the cycling champions league. Eventually that happened, but we still had no Polish contestants winning. What Rafał Majka has accomplished is something special. In grand style he won two stages and brought home the yellow jersey. Everyone had been waiting for contestants like Rafał, Michał Kwiatkowski and Maciek Paterski.
FROM ITALIAN TO POLISH SOIL
"From Italian to Polish soil" (from the Polish National Anthem) along the routes of Pope John Paul II – was the motto of this Jubilee, 70th Tour de Pologne UCI World Tour. For the first time in history, our national race began abroad. Two mountain stages took place in the Dolomites in the Trentino region, which for years has been closely associated with the Tour de Pologne. The best riders in the world had the opportunity to compete in beautiful scenery and fight it out on the cult mountain passes, with Passo Pordoi the most important. Everything started with a beautiful opening ceremony for the race in Rovereto, from where the riders started off for Madonna di Campiglio. The fastest there was Diego Ulissi, and third place went to Rafał Majka. I was hoping for more. I tried to attack, but for me it was too flat. I aim to win the second stage and get to wear that yellow jersey - said the Polish rider at the finish. Although he didn’t win at Passo Pordoi (he was fifth, while Christophe Riblon won), he still won the jersey and rode into Poland as the leader of the race.
The Polish section of Tour de Pologne started with a flat stage from Kraków to Rzeszów, where the world champion in 2010, Thor Hushovd triumphed. The hero of the stage that finished in Katowice was Taylor Phinney, who some four kilometres before the finish line, broke away from the peloton and rode alone to the finish.
On the last lap I thought: Maybe this is a good time to attack? I tried it, counting on the fact that someone would join me. But when I found myself alone, I said: OK, I’ll treat this like a time trial, in which I am after all, pretty good. And thus I managed to win - explained Phinney. A day later, the Tour entered the mountains and in Zakopane, Hushovd won again. In the general classification, Rafał Majka lost the lead to Ion Izagirre, but the difference between the riders was only 4 seconds.
On the royal stage in Bukowina, the Polish contestant tried to recover the yellow jersey, but several kilometres before the finish he had a fall and reached the finishing line in fifth place. The winner was Darwin Atapuma, and Riblon became the new leader of the race. In the classification, Majka was then 20 seconds behind the Frenchman. So everything now depended on the time trial with its finish in Kraków. Unrivalled was Bradley Wiggins. This Tour de France winner and Olympic champion got the better of another star of the international peloton, Fabian Cancellara. I trained very hard over the past few weeks, I prepared especially for this event, and so I'm not surprised by the outcome. From the beginning, I counted on a victory - said Wiggins. The overall winner of the race was the Dutchman Pieter Weening, and the best of the Polish contestants - Majka - was fourth. I tried to ride as best I could, but it was not enough to win. I’m disappointed, because I very much wanted to triumph. But this also gives me the motivation to start next year and win - said Majka prophetically.
HOPES FOR A POLISH VICTORY
The 69th Tour de Pologne UCI World Tour was held on 10-16 July, and the route leading from Karpacz to Kraków amounted to 1,234 kilometres. The July deadline for the event was due to the fact that in August the Olympics were being held in London. For this reason, Poland was visited by many contestants, who hoped to win Olympic medals. And so, among others appearing at the start were Tom Boonen, Thor Hushovd, Alessandro Ballan, Ben Swift, and Roman Kreuziger. Among the Polish contestants, the favourites tipped as most likely to win were Michał Kwiatkowski and Marek Rutkiewicz. Unusually, the 69th Tour de Pologne started with a mountain stage from Karpacz to Jelenia Góra. At the finish, Moreno Moser and Kwiatkowski fought for victory, in other words the two riders, who later, all the way to the final stage chased each other for the final triumph. In both the first and second case, the Italian proved faster.
KWIATKOWSKI VS MOSER
The route of the 69th Tour de Pologne led through some beautiful areas of southern Poland. After Jelenia Góra the peloton arrived in Opole, where Ben Swift won a victory. The third stage, with its finish in Cieszyn, was won by Zdenek Stybar, and the fourth in Katowice went to Aidis Kruopis. The capital of Upper Silesia proved fortuitous for Kwiatkowski, because thanks to a time bonus that he acquired, the Polish contestant became the new leader. He also maintained the lead in Zakopane, and the decisive battle began on the royal stage in Bukowina Tatrzańska. The history of this stage is almost a readymade film script. On this route there were as many as 10 mountain primes, so from the beginning, there were attacks being made. The closer to the finish line, the less numerous the leading group became. At the end, Sergio Henao decided on a lone attack, but a few hundred metres before the finish line, Moser started off in pursuit, followed by Kwiatkowski. The fierce battle continued to the finish line, with the Italian first over it. The Polish contestant came in third and lost the leader's jersey.
A FINAL STAGE IN POURING RAIN
The last stage in Kraków was a chance for sprinters to show their stuff. John Degenkolb won a battle with his rivals and achieved victory despite the powerful downpour. In the general classification there were no changes and the young Moreno Moser enjoyed a victory. When the excitement subsided, Michał Kwiatkowski appreciated his winning second place. "I realised that making up five seconds in the Kraków stage would be very difficult. I told myself I wouldn’t give up, but at the same time I was aware that you have to be careful. There was a greater likelihood that somewhere I would get into trouble and lose my second place, sooner than win the yellow shirt. Before the race I would have happily taken second place, because I came here with the intention of fighting for a stage win. But there appeared a chance of winning the whole race; I had put on the yellow jersey, so the plan was put into action with a vengeance. And I haven’t had my last say, because it's only the beginning of my career" – said Kwiatkowski. And he was right. Two years later, in phenomenal style, he won the world championship title in Ponferrada.
A POLISH RECORD
The 68th Tour de Pologne UCI World Tour took place between July 31st and August 6th, with riders covering a route from Pruszków to Kraków amounting to 1,113 kilometres. At the start, there were many international cycling stars, including two world champions, Alessandro Ballan and Tom Boonen. Also appearing was Danilo Di Luca, winner of Giro d'Italia in 2007, and Vincenzo Nibali, the winner of Vuelta a Espana in 2008. A record number of Polish contestants began the race – as many as 21. In addition to the CCC Polsat Polkowice group and representatives of the Polish national team, there also appeared Polish contestants starting in foreign groups, such as Przemysław Niemiec, Rafał Majka, Michał Gołaś, Maciej Bodnar, Maciej Paterski and Jarosław Marycz. However, the main Polish favourite for the race remained Marek Rutkiewicz, who for years had occupied a place in the top ten.
THE GERMAN KING OF SPRINT
However, the 68th Tour de Pologne brought us some completely new heroes. The first of these was Marcel Kittel, who fared phenomenally well during sprints out of the peloton and set a record of four wins in a single race. He had no equal in the finishing sprints in Warsaw, Dąbrowa Górnicza, Katowice and Kraków.
"This race is a breakthrough in my career. In recent years, I watched it on TV and was fascinated by the Polish fans. At the beginning of the competition I hoped to win a stage, but I did not expect to do so as many as four times. I will always remember this race, but not just because I won four stages here. I‘ll also remember the work of my entire team and the Polish fans. I don’t know how many autographs I signed, how many people wanted to take their pictures with me, perhaps a million ... In sports terms, this race is now one of the best in my career". – said Kittel.
THE GENIUS OF SAGAN
For Kittel, the Tour de Pologne was undoubtedly a breakthrough. In later years, this German won the flat stages in the Tour de France many times, as well as other races. A similar career awaited Peter Sagan – winner of 68th Tour de Pologne. In 2011, the talented Slovakian was at the beginning of a great cycling adventure. In Poland, his talent literally exploded – Sagan won two mountain stages and in the final classification, was six seconds ahead of the title’s defender Daniel Martin. "That victory in the Tour de Pologne was the greatest success in my cycling career. I am very happy that I managed to win in Poland. Tour de Pologne is a great race. Wonderfully organized, with great fans". – said Sagan, who in 2015 won the title of world champion in Richmond. It is worth adding that also starting in the 68th Tour de Pologne was Christopher Froome, a future winner of the Tour de France, though in Poland he didn’t do particularly well, only coming in 85th.
AN IMPORTANT ANNIVERSARY
The 67th Tour de Pologne UCI Pro Tour was held on 1-7 August and the riders fought for position over a 1,242 kilometre route, leading from Sochaczew to Kraków. This race became an active part of the Chopin Year Celebrations, with 2010 marking the 200th birthday of that famous composer. Chopin's music formed the background to the official presentation of the route, and during the race accompanied the fans, who could listen to free concerts and recitals. A unique event that Tour de Pologne reminded us of was the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. During the sixth stage of the race, the entire column rode past the camp, where flowers were laid and tribute was paid to those murdered there.
BALLAN THE FAVOURITE
The main favourite of the 67th Tour de Pologne was Alessandro Ballan, world champion in 2008 and winner of the Tour de Pologne in 2009. "I'm in good shape, the route suits me, and so my attitude to the race is optimistic. But I can’t promise a victory, because there are a lot of good riders here, each of whom aims to be first" – said the Italian cyclist before the start. Two Polish contestants were also mentioned among the candidates likely to win – the leader of the Polish team Marek Rutkiewicz and Sylwester Szmyd, who rode wearing the colours of the Liquigas group. The first, flat stages ended in victories for the sprinters. Jacopo Guarnieri won in Warsaw, in Dąbrowa Górnicza the fastest was Andre Greipel, and in Katowice Yauheni Hutarovich triumphed. On the hilly stage with the finish line in Cieszyn, Mirco Lorenzetto came in first, but the differences between riders in the peloton were still minimal.
AN UNEXPECTED WINNER
Everything changed when the riders entered the high mountains. The decisive stage was the fifth, from Jastrzębie Zdrój to Ustroń, with the finish line on Równica. A few kilometres before the finish, Daniel Martin attacked and came in first over the finish line. The advantage of 20 seconds over his rivals was enough not only to win the stage, but also to take the lead in the overall standings. To the end, the Irish contestant never gave up the lead and on Kraków’s Blonie Park enjoyed a final triumph.
The best Polish contestant, Sylwester Szmyd, took sixth place. "To sum up the race I can say that I am quite satisfied. Polish riders – apart that is from Marek Rutkiewicz on the TdP – rarely end Pro Tour races in the top ten. I did it twice in the Tour de Romandie and Dauphine Libere and now in Poland. With a bit of luck, there was even a chance of winning" – said Szmyd at the finish.
A TOUR DE POLOGNE PREVIEW WITH A PRIZE
After the events of the 65th Tour de Pologne, Czesław Lang set himself an extremely difficult task – to change the autumn date for holding the race. Long negotiations with the International Cycling Union were successful, and the Polish Tour was moved from the second half of September to the beginning of August. "This is a very good change. It will be warmer and there will be more fans on the road" – said Lang. And so it proved. But before the fans began to enjoy this cycling event, they could see an official trailer of the 66th Tour de Pologne prepared by Polish Television. This unique film not only advertised our great national race, but also received a prestigious EBU award in the best trailer category. The author of this idea was Witold Stanisławski, the head of TVP1 channel’s editorial and promotion department.
A WORLD CHAMPION AT THE START
The highlight of this year’s race was the start – and win – by Alessandro Ballan, appearing in the rainbow coloured shirt of current world champion. The Italian contestant is slowly returning to racing after an injury and illness. He did not disguise the fact that the Tour de Pologne is for him a very important test. "It's a perfect race for me to show my skills. I like the route and the rivals taking part. I am also delighted that I will be able to present the world champion shirt in Poland. So I can not fail!" – the Lampre rider said before the race. He kept his word, although his rivals pressed hard. The Italian was about 10 seconds ahead of the second rider, Daniel Moreno, at the finish line in Kraków. Edvald Boasson Hagen lost one second more.
In 2009, we saw many future celebrities on the Tour de Pologne route. Andre Greipel fared superbly on the flat sprints. The German stood three times on the podium, and in Kraków awarded himself the best possible present, winning the last stage. The great Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen celebrated two victories. Also the young Polish contestants Maciej Paterski and Michał Gołaś were seen for the first time by a wider audience.
Never before had the current world champion won the Tour de Pologne. Indeed, no world champion has managed to do so since. The summit of this Italian’s career was 2007-09, when he won the Ronde van Vlaanderen, the Vattenfall Cyclassics, triumphed on the Vuelta a Espana stage, and took third place in the Paris-Roubaix race. His crowning achievement of 2008 was the world title, won in front of his home crowd in Varese. And on top of the title – a victory in the Tour de Pologne, a year later.
A TRIPLE JUBILEE
In 2008, the Tour de Pologne celebrated a triple anniversary. First of all – it had been 80 years since the start of the first race. Secondly – it was the 65th event to be held, and thirdly – the 15th time the race was organized by Czesław Lang. To celebrate this event, the route linked the two capitals: Warsaw and Kraków. After nine consecutive races ending in Karpacz, this was a major change. At the start, once again some big stars were present, but unfortunately the weather turned nasty. The race took place between 14th and 20th of September. The temperature dropped below 10 degrees Celsius, with rain and winds. The fourth stage from Bielsko Podlaski to Lublin was first shortened and later cancelled and the lengths of subsequent sections were also reduced.
"It was one of the toughest tests of my cycling career. The route, the television coverage, the sponsors – all had been set up, and so the race had to be held. On the other hand, it was really slippery, quite dangerous. As a former cyclist, I saw it clearly. It was necessary to find a compromise" – says Czesław Lang.
THE POLISH REPRESENTATION AT THE START
The 65th Tour de Pologne also saw a return to a great tradition – the Polish national team received an invitation to the competition. The best was Marek Rutkiewicz, who took 10th place. Ending his career, Dariusz Baranowski, a three-time winner of the Tour, did well and came in sixteenth.
UNDISPUTED VICTORY – JENS VOIGT
He tried several times and in 1999, lost only to Tomasz Brożyna, and in 2001 Ondrej Sosenka was just slightly better. In 2007, he finally succeeded! The German rider with the CSC-Saxo Bank group finally won the Tour de Pologne at the age of ... 36. But nothing was left to doubt. He was ahead of the second rider, Lars Yitting Bak by a minute and 22 seconds. He prevailed, winning the mountain stage of Krynica Górska – Zakopane by a large margin. "It's a fantastic race. Czesław Lang always gives his all. You can see his energy, commitment and love of cycling" – said Voigt in praise of the event.
CYCLING THEATRICS IN WARSAW
The 64th Tour de Pologne began with two successes. Firstly – we managed to move the start of the race back one day, from Monday to Sunday. Secondly – that Sunday was scheduled to be quite exceptional. A team time trial was held on Warsaw’s beautiful Theatre Square – Plac Teatralny. This extremely impressive start of the Tour gathered crowds. "Warsaw deserves such a start, and Tour de Pologne deserves such a setting. This is genuine cycling theatrics, and starring in it are the best actors in the world" – commented Czesław Lang.
BIG NAMES IN THE PELOTON
The level of the race was actually extremely high. To mention just a few names: the winner Johan Vansummeren, along with Robert Gesink, Kim Kirchen, Fabian Wegmann, Alessandro Ballan, Pablo Lastras Garcia, Danilo di Luca, Jose Rojas Gil and Thomas Voeckler – the top ten of the 64th Tour de Pologne. And coming up behind them were some other outstanding contestants, like Jens Voigt, Bobby Julich and Joaquin Rodriguez.The best Polish rider, Bartosz Huzarski, was only 29th in that star-studded company. For the first time in history there was no Polish representative in the top ten of the race.
JOHAN VANSUMMEREN THE FASTEST
Once again the opinion was confirmed that the Tour de Pologne can be won by strong, tall riders. The Belgian from the Predictor-Lotto group measures some 197 cm in height, but like Ondrej Sosenka (200 cm), did well in Karpacz, winning the last stage, ahead of Robert Gesink and Kim Kirchen. The same order was seen on the podium for the overall classification. Up to his start in Poland, Vansummeren’s greatest success was victory in the 2006 Tour of Britain. In 2011, he fulfilled a life-long dream by winning the Paris-Roubaix race. "This is the happiest day in my career. The race was hard, cold, and the stages very long, but for me it ended perfectly" – said Johan Vansummeren at the finish of the 64th Tour de Pologne.
A STELLAR PODIUM
There had never been such a star showing on the podium in the Tour de Pologne. It was won by Stefan Schumacher of the extremely strong Gerolsteiner group. The Germans were at that time one of the most powerful and richest teams in the professional peloton. Schumacher, winner of two stages of the Giro d'Italia in 2006, came in about 18 seconds ahead of the extremely versatile Cadel Evans (a future winner of the Tour de France) and Alessandro Ballan (a future world champion). On the way we saw such future stars as Vincenzo Nibali and Roman Kreuziger. Once again, it turned out that the Tour de Pologne is a great route for future champions. Another great figure in this race was the Italian sprinter Daniele Benatti, who again came to Poland and won two stages. "I really like this race. If only everyone put so much heart into cycling as Czesław Lang, there would be nothing to complain about" – he said at the finish of the fourth stage in Poznań.
A POLISH HERO
Once again the Polish hero of the 63rd Tour de Pologne was Marek Rutkiewicz. For the fifth time in a row, this Intel-Action group cyclist completed the national Tour in the top ten. This time he was fourth, though he achieved the same time as Alessandro Ballan. The Italian was placed on the podium thanks to a better points total for the individual stages. The biggest success for Rutkiewicz was third place in 2002.
SCHUMACHER DOMINATES IN KARPACZ
He secured the yellow shirt by dominating the last two stages with the finish in Karpacz. In subsequent years, he won the Amstel Gold Race, won two stages in the Tour de France, and was a bronze medallist at the world championships. A shadow on his career however was cast by doping, to which he admitted in 2009. "Well organized, with lots of positive energy and crowds of fans along the route" – is how Stefan Schumacher recalls the Tour de Pologne.
A DEBUT IN THE CYCLING CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
2005 was a historic year. The International Cycling Union included the Tour de Pologne in the UCI Pro Tour. "I consider this the highest expression of appreciation for our work. We have received an invitation to the cycling champions league, the only race in Central and Eastern Europe to do so. This puts us up with the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia. The only difference is that our race lasts a week"– said Tour de Pologne director, Czesław Lang. The Pro Tour was an elite company. Some 27 cycling events around the world, including only 13 stage races. As a result, we saw absolutely the top riders at the start of the Tour de Pologne. First and foremost, the leaders of the 2005 Pro Tour – Danilo di Luca, Bobby Julich, Davide Rebellin, Fabian Cancellara, Cadel Evans, Alejandro Valverde and Erik Dekker.
Polish Television gave the race broad coverage. The eight stages were watched by a total of 22 million viewers. The race was also shown in France (Canal +) and Germany (ARD). The top Polish riders fared very well in the Champions League. In the prestigious UCI ranking, Tour de Pologne was placed 5th, the only races ahead of it being the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia, Vuelta a' Espana and the Deutschland Tour.
CLIMBING THE ORLINEK
The winner of the first, historic Tour de Pologne in the highest category was Kim Kirchen (Fassa Bortolo). The race was extremely balanced. Just 11 seconds separated the three winners on the podium. Second was Peter Weening, and third was Thomas Dekker, both from the Rabobank team. 27-year-old Kirchen won the yellow jersey on the penultimate stage. He won the climb on the Orlinek, ahead of Danilo Di Luca. This victory in Poland was the greatest success in the career of this rider from Luxembourg.
2002 - LAURENT BROCHARD
Another hurdle overcome. In 2002, the Tour de Pologne was already rated a 2.2 category race thanks to the UCI appreciating the excellent organization of the Tour. Further cycling stars were likewise to appreciate the race. Frank Vandenbroucke, Franco Pellizotti and Richard Virenque appeared at the start. But the strongest magnet of the 59th Tour de Pologne was, however, Laurent Brochard. Five years earlier in San Sebastian, this Frenchman had won the individual world champion title. Brochard did not disappoint his fans. After the long, flat stages he really showed his stuff. Firstly he took second place on the route from Kożuchów to Szklarska Poręba. Then a victory in Karpacz. The leader’s jersey was won and defended on the same day in the time trial – so the final race played out. Brochard overtook Tomasz Brożyna and Marek Rutkiewicz. It is worth mentioning that the 45th place was taken by Fabian Cancellara, a 21-year-old Swiss, in this, his very first race.
2003 – CEZARY ZAMANA
A new cycling talent revealed itself on September 14th 2003 in Karpacz. This was 20-year-old Alberto Contador of the O.N.C.E Eroski team, a short, slim Spaniard at the threshold of a great career, who won the individual time trial concluding the 60th Tour de Pologne. He was about 19 seconds ahead of the overall winner of the race, Cezary Zamana. The Tour once again gathered some big stars at the start of the race. Laurent Brochard and Jens Voigt were back and the great sprint talent, Daniele Benatti appeared. He quickly gave us a sample of his skills, winning the stage from Ostróda to Bydgoszcz. Zamana, however, was in great form and eclipsed the stars. The race was decided in the mountains, especially during the sixth stage, from Piechowice to Karpacz. However, we didn’t get to see a Polish winner of the Tour de Pologne – and there’s no knowing how long we will have to wait to see a repeat of that formula.
2004 – ONDREJ SOSENKA
Ondrej Sosenka used to say that the Tour de Pologne was his favourite race. In 2004, he confirmed it once again, becoming the winner of the 61st event. Just like the first time, everything was decided on the last day and the rainy struggle up the Orlinek. "I really wanted it to rain. I had my own way of handling such weather" – said Sosenka later.
"I prepared special tires and rubbed them with lemons, a method I learnt from my dad, who was also a cyclist. As a result, I had excellent cornering grip in the rain. I started to make a breakaway. And although I failed to win the stage, I knew that in these conditions, in the time trial, I just had to win". And he did just as he said. This powerful, 2 metre tall rider dominated the time trial and was the overall winner of the race. He was about 23 seconds ahead of Portugal's Hugo Sabido. Coming in third was Franco Pellizotti. For the first time since 1998, there was no Polish contestant on the podium.
1999 – TOMASZ BROŻYNA
In 1999, the Tour de Pologne had its finish line on the Orlinek in Karpacz and so it remained for the next nine years, until 2007. Moreover, until 2005 every race ended here with a murderous time trial. The Orlinek become the showcase of the Tour de Pologne. This climb at the foot of Mount Śnieżka involves a 400-metre height difference over a stretch of a mere four kilometres. It had to be overcome not once, but several or even more than a dozen times a day. This is why participants of the Tour de Pologne have called it the "Wailing Wall." In 1999, the absolute king of Orlinek was Raimondas Rumsas of the Mróz team. He also won the stage from Jelenia Góra to Karpacz and the individual time trial. But in the general classification, the Lithuanian took third place. This was won by his team-mate Tomasz Brożyna. The Polish cyclist finished about half a minute ahead of Jens Voigt of Credit Agricole.
2000 – PIOTR PRZYDZIAŁ
In 2000, the battle for victory in the Tour de Pologne was fought out by two Piotrs. Piotr Wadecki, from the Mróz Supradyn Vitaminy team and Piotr Przydział of the CCC Mat Ceresit team. The first of them won the yellow leader’s shirt on the first day by winning the Braniewo – Elbląg stage. With the help of a strong team, he successfully defended himself until the mountains. At the Szklarska Poręba – Karpacz stage, Przydział made a breakaway, together with Sergei Ivanov, the winner of the 1998 Tour de Pologne. And although the Russian won this stage, the CCC Mat Ceresit rider gained as much as 31 seconds over Wadecki and relieved him of his yellow jersey. In the time trial that concluded the race, Wadecki fought with all his strength to regain the lead. He was faster than his opponent, but to win the race lacked... just 7 seconds. The triumph in the Tour de Pologne was the greatest success in Przydział’s career.
2001 ONDREJ SOSENKA
The Tour de Pologne entered the new century with an all-star cast. At the start of the race in Gdansk there were such famous riders as: Jens Voigt, Kim Kirchen. Jaan Kirsipuu and the entire set of Polish stars, including Sylwester Szmyd and Zbigniew Spruch in the lead. Tour de Pologne 2001 went very much the way Voigt wished it and he arrived in Poland following a great performance in the Tour de France. He won two stages (including a team stage) and for one day, even wore the leader's jersey. Voigt got hold of the yellow jersey after stage number 6, from Piechowice to Karpacz. The next day, he defended it and then came the decisive time trial. The German rode really well and took second place, but the real show of power that day was that of Ondrej Sosenka. The 26-year-old Czech, competing in the colours of CCC Mat Ceresit, over just 19 kilometres achieved as many as 46 seconds advantage and won the race. "The Czech sensation!" – was the cover title of Przegląd Sportowy (Sports Review) the next day.
1996 – WIACZESŁAW DAWANIAN
That was truly the beginning of a whole new era. It took only three years under the leadership of Czesław Lang for the Polish race to begin enjoying a great reputation, and this was reflected in the list of riders at the start. In 1996, for the first time in the history of the Tour de Pologne, the entire podium was occupied by foreign contestants. What's more, they won all eight stages and never for a moment had to hand over the yellow jersey to any Polish contestants. The best of the white and reds was Zbigniew Piątek, coming tenth in the general classification. The race was won by Wiaczesław Dżawanian from Ruslotto in Russia. The Russian won two stages on the way, and before the last, individual time trial in Bełchatów, he had an enormous advantage over his rivals. Here, however, Maurizio Fondriest once again showed his great class. Winner of the Tour de Pologne in 1994, he won the race with time and thus moved up to second place in the general classification. Third place was taken by another Italian, Andrea Noe.
1997 – ROLF JAERMANN
Zenon Jaskuła is a historic figure in the Tour de Pologne. He made his debut in the national race as an 18-year-old in 1981. Right away he won the fourth stage, an individual time trial around Częstochowa. He was then about 16 seconds ahead of Czesław Lang. This success was repeated four days later, in another timed trial, this time in the vicinity of Zielona Góra. Four years later, he shone again. Starting in the colours of the Polish national team, he won the prologue and two stages of the 42nd Tour de Pologne. It was evident to everyone that here was a unique talent. In 1997, he returned to end his career with the Tour de Pologne before retiring. After winning third place in the 1993 Tour de France (behind Indurain and Rominger) he was well-known all over the world, and wished very much to say goodbye to Poland with a victory. He failed by just... 25 seconds, because in the general classification of the 1997 Tour de Pologne, Rolf Jaermann was ahead of Jaskuła by just that many seconds. The Swiss defended the yellow jersey during the time trial in Kraków. An invaluable role in the whole victory was played by 23-year-old Aleksander Vinokourov, then aiming for a permanent contract with the Casino team. Tour de Pologne proved to be his big breakthrough.
1998 – SERGEI IVANOV
The highlight of the 1998 Tour de Pologne was the appearance of Jacky Durand. This Frenchman became famous in 1992, by winning the Ronde van Vlaanderen after a lone, 217 km breakaway. He next took the lead in three stages of the Tour de France. This was one more sign that the Tour de Pologne was attracting ever better contestants. Durand also shone in Poland. He won a tough, hilly stage from Rabka to Wieliczka. In the general classification he took second place, losing only to the Russian Sergei Ivanov. Polish contestants also did very well in this race. The first stage was won by Zbigniew Spruch, third was Sławomir Chrzanowski, and coming in fourth was Artur Krzeszowiec. Starting in the colours of the Mróz team, Piotr Wadecki got to wear the leader's jersey for two days.
1993 – DARIUSZ BARANOWSKI
For the Tour de Pologne, 1993 was in all senses of the word a unique year. Firstly, the financially strapped race was saved by Czesław Lang, who invested his money and promised to create the greatest cycling event in this part of Europe. Secondly, the winner of the 50th Tour de Pologne was Dariusz Baranowski. This Pekaes Lang Rover Legia contestant thus completed a cycling hat-trick. Only he and Marian Więckowski (in the years 1954-56) had won the Tour de Pologne three times in a row. Baranowski recalls: "From the beginning it was like a dream. A 19-year-old comes along and beats his senior colleagues; then repeats the feat. And the success in 1993 was doubly special. First, the race was already being organized by Czesław Lang and this meant that the cast was immediately strengthened. And secondly – it was Agnieszka, who handed out the winners’ shirts to those on the podium. Something kind of clicked between us at that moment and today she is my wife"– laughs Baranowski.
1994 – MAURIZIO FONDRIEST
Already in 1994, this "new" Tour de Pologne attracted some big name cycling stars. The event saw a great performance by the 1988 world champion, Maurizio Fondriest. Furthermore, the Italian did not come to Poland to accept praise from the fans, but to win. The second stage of the race certainly has its place among the greatest events in the history of the Tour de Pologne. The 179 kilometres from Legnica to Polanica-Zdrój is a difficult, hilly route of as many as 7 mountain premiums. Fondriest attacked. The Italian’s lone charge surprised his rivals and shocked the fans. At the finish line the Animex Lampre rider was all of six and a half minutes ahead of Aleksander Gonczenkow. – Then I knew that it just wouldn’t be right not to take the yellow jersey to the end of the race – says Fondriest. Not only did he do so, but he dotted the i’s by winning the individual time trial around Kielce with a huge advantage.
1995 – ZBIGNIEW SPRUCH
Year by year it was getting harder and harder for the Polish riders to keep up with the pros. On the other hand, the Tour de Pologne helped many to show their best in the peloton and thus be recruited by good, foreign teams. In the 1995 race, Zbigniew Spruch showed up as the leader of the Lampre Panari Animex team and already, following the prologue, was wearing the yellow jersey. But Steven de Jongh took it from him in the first stage. Does that name sound familiar? Not surprisingly, since the Dutchman is now head of the sports directors in the Tinkoff team, which includes Rafał Majka, Maciej Bodnar and Paweł Poljański. The 1995 Tour de Pologne featured some fierce final sprint battles with Davide Bramati, now the sports director with the Ettix QuickStep team. But they were all losers to Spruch. He regained the jersey (after Eddy Gragus IV-VII stages) on the penultimate mountain stage with its start and finish in Bielsko-Biała. Although Quintino Rodrigues actually won the stage, Spruch was fifth and gained precious seconds over his rivals in the general classification.
THE POST-WAR YEARS
The post-war reality was not overly kind to the Tour de Pologne. The communist authorities of the Polish People's Republic favoured their new cycling infant – the Peace Race. Tour de Pologne, however, did not give up. 1947 saw the first post-war race being held. This had only 4 stages and a little over 600 kilometres. In subsequent years, riders from abroad started arriving to take part in the Tour around Poland. They had also participated before the war, but without much success. However, in 1948 the Swede Olle Persson won two stages. A year later, the race became really international. The whole podium went to foreigners in a race dominated by Italy's Francesco Locatelli. In turn, in 1953 the longest race in history was held. The Jubilee 10th Tour de Pologne involved as many as 13 stages and exactly 2,311 kilometres. The winner was Mieczyslaw Wilczewski.
The years 1954 to 1957 were totally dominated by Marian Więckowski, who won the Tour de Pologne three times in a row! He recalls his first triumph thus: "It was very hard to do. Already at the beginning of the race, in Jabłonna, I got a puncture. The leaders got away from me and for 80 kilometres I had to chase them. But I caught up. And then I gained more confidence, seeing that if I could make up that gap then I really must be pretty strong. So I started to run the race my way. And from then on, I was always trying to escape them. That's the way I was, preferring to collect those extra seconds on the stages and slowly build an advantage, rather than counting on finishes. So I got away from the rest. I remember one of the stages, to Jelenia Góra. The heavy rain there was just terrible. I don’t remember many downpours like that one. And we had to climb Kapela. Three of us made a break for it. And suddenly I heard this squeaky voice of my team mate imploring me: "Marian, give me a push, I can’t make it, I can’t go on ...". So with my left hand on the handle bars, I pushed him along with my right. And that’s how it ended, he went ahead, and I began to fail. The finish was at the stadium, with mud up to our ankles. He won the stage, but I was the leader. And from that moment it began - there was no helping anyone after that".
BIG NAMES, GREAT DUELS
In subsequent years, the best Polish riders appeared along the routes of the Tour de Pologne, as well as more and more foreign names. In 1960, it was won by the Belgian Roger Diercken, whose superiority even Stanisław Królak, and Jan Kudra had to concede. The latter got his own back in 1962, when he turned out to be better than another excellent Belgian, Roger Swerts. In 1968, Ryszard Szurkowski appeared at the start of the Tour de Pologne.
He competed until 1984, winning a total of fifteen stages, but never managed to win the whole race. The list of great names, who never had any luck on the Tour de Pologne, is longer – Królak, Lech Piasecki, Zenon Jaskuła, and Joachim Halupczok. At the other extreme were the three-time winners of the race Andrzej Mierzejewski (1982, 1984 and 1988) and Dariusz Baranowski (1991-1993), whose achievements equalled those of Marian Więckowski. In 1989 Poland regained its freedom, but the Tour de Pologne was now in trouble. The new reality posed new challenges, and the race needed a new start.
THE CYCLING SPIRIT
The idea of organizing a national cycling race came shortly after Poland regained its independence in 1918. Sport was an extremely important element in shaping the attitudes of the Second Republic, and cycling was very helpful in that process. The cycling peloton goes out to the people, visits their cities, towns and villages. It is within arm’s reach for anyone who wants to go out on the street and watch the struggles of the athletes. This idea of cycling races became a solid fact thanks to the efforts of the Warsaw Cyclists' Association, and the editorial staff of Przegląd Sportowy (Sports Review). In 1928, exactly a quarter of a century after the launch of the famous Tour de France, the first Cycling Race around Poland was held. The importance of that event can be seen in the fact that the honorary patron of the race was the President of the Second Republic Ignacy Mościcki, and the President of the Honorary Committee was Marshal Józef Piłsudski.
WIĘCEK’S HISTORIC TRIUMPH
On September 7th, 1928 a total of 71 riders set off from the Dynasy track in Warsaw. The 1,491 kilometre route was divided into eight stages. The cyclists visited among other places Lublin, Lvov, Rzeszów, Kraków, Poznań and Łódź, finally returning to the capital. The hero of the day was a contestant from the Bydgoszcz Cycling Club, Feliks Więcek, who won six stages and of course the whole race. Przegląd Sportowy (Sports Review) wrote: "The sporting results of the Race, as well as the whole organizational work, and above all the spirit of the contestants – opened up new horizons for Polish sport, the likes of which only sports fanatics had dreamt. The one and a half thousand kilometres of Polish roads, traversed by heroic riders within 10 days – is like a big ribbon bringing our most powerful cultural, social, economic and sporting centres together in one great united and powerful whole".
TIGER OF THE ROAD
Tour de Pologne quickly became one of the most important sporting events of interwar Poland. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered along the streets and highways, to cheer their heroes. One of those great names was definitely Więcek, another was Bolesław Napierała. Called the "tiger of the road", this cyclist won two Tour de Pologne races, having learned his cycling craft from Nicolas Frantz, a two-time winner of the Tour de France. Before the war, cycling races were nothing like today's sports performances. The riders rode at an average speed of approximately 25 km/h, covering stages of up to 300 kilometres in length, and instead of carrying bidons and bars of chocolate, stopped to eat a meal. But one thing has remained unchanged – the satisfaction of winning and the huge popularity of the winners. Before the outbreak of World War II, we managed to hold five of these great races.