Tour de Pologne Overall Preview
As it's been for the last few years the Tour de Pologne is the after-Tour stage race to follow, where the World Tour teams are back in action and where some big figures come back to the big screens, in a combination of flat, hilly and mountainous stages that make up this 76th edition of the race, where every finish will take place in a circuit.
The race starts in Krakow and the opening stage goes around the flatlands of one of Poland's main cities. It's a relatively easy start, 134 kilometers with a little over 1000 meters of climbing but the main dificulties - if we can call it that - come early in the stage. It's a pure sprinters stage which should see a sprinter elected the first leader of the race.
There is a finishing circuit that will finish off the stage, it's 4 kilometers long with no gradient to it, it's not a technical finish at all so it should be all in for the leadouts and how the sprinters are able to deliver in the end of the day.
Stage 2 is somewhat similar to the opening day, it's another rather short day only with 152 kilometers in distance, the profile is misleading as it is a completely flat day. The similarities are clear as this day also finishes in a circuit.
It's a little under 20 kilometers, it's flat but with a small incline into the final kilometer which will then turn into a small negative grade down the avenue they came up, so it will be a very fast finish for the powerhouse sprinters, and again it won't be a technical finish.
Tradition remains as in the third day of racing the sprinters will have their way around. The profile again is very disleading, it's pan-flat in reality. It's a traditional stage in Poland there isn't anything really to note in the day.
The finishing circuit is again not a technical one, the finishing straight is 900 meters long and the whole lap is 6.2 kilometers long, which they will be doing 4 times.
Stage 4 is the first important stage for the GC. It's a hard stage, mainly a hard finish but overall it's far from a walk in the park beforehand. There is a circuit that includes the two climbs halfway in the stage, one is 3.6Km long at 6.4% and the second short hilltop is 1.3Km long at 8.5. They are hard climbs but short in lenght, they will set up some fatigue but it won't be anything decisive.
The final climb to Kocierz is the big climb previously ridden but through a different vertent, and a much harder one clearly. From 3.2 to 2Km to go the average gradient of the climb is 12.5%, it's a brutal climb right there where attacks can easily come, riders distanced in a finish that will go to the puncheurs and the climbers. From the 2Km mark the average grade to the finish is 2.5%, it's pretty much a flat run-in to the final 500 meters where the gradient ramps up a bit again to around 5%.
Stage 5 will be a familiar finish, last year it was the scene of a memorable finish where Michal Kwiatkowski launched his sprint from distance and held it to the line. It's not an easy stage, it's a rolling one with some short climbs, with 33 kilometers to go there's the summit of a 4.1Km long climb at 6.5%, it will be a hard one before entering the final circuit which consists in 4 short laps that climax on a short climb.
At 3.6% during 2.3 kilometers it isn't a very hard climb, last year Kwiatkowski averaged 39Km/h during it so it is very noticeable, the gradient kicks to 5% near the line, it's a finish that suits a sprinter that can climb or it suits the more explosive puncheurs. It's a long sprint, as it is a stage that allows the fast men to have leadout, that combined with positioning will burn the sprinters, it will be hard for them to resist but it's around a 50/50, it depends on how the pace is before the final lap.
Stage 6 is another circuit around the well known hills of Zakopane. It's a rough day with virtually no flat terrain, there's 3300 meters of climbing, most of them around the same climb as they will get out of Zakopane to climb Gubalowka, have a circuit around the Pitoniovka and come back towards Zakopane again through the Gubalowka, but instead of turning back to Zakopane the finish this year is in Koscielisko.
The Pitoniovka will be climbed 5 times, the last of them having it's summit a mere 16 kilometers away from the finish line and it's a quite hard one, the average gradient as it's visible is 8.7% but it's more complex than that as the gradients go well over the double digits, averaging 14% for 500 meters during the bulk of it, before slowing back down the gradient again. As for the Gubalowka it summits just a mere 2.5 kilometers away from the finish, it's no doubt the final launchpad for those looking to win, after it comes just a fast descent and a small ramp for the line.
The final day finally is the classic circuit around Bukowina, it's the queen stage and experience here will be as important as the power. The climbs are hard but not mountains, there is room for surprises, specially as it's the last day and there are lots of riders looking to move up and likely lots still with the goal of winning the race. There will be two circuits with the full set of climbs.
Both of these are relatively mild in terms of average gradient but both have quie a hard section in them. The final summit of both of them come with 47 and 23 kilometers to the finish, with a passing through the finish line in the middle. The attacks will likely show up here, there's some hard gradients to attack and the final climb may not be hard enough for some riders who will be looking to attack.
The final climb to the Bukowina ski resort is well known, a straightforward 4 kilometer ascent that's in my opinion Poland's most famous climb at this point, it hosts the queen stage every year and has seen Wout Poels and Simon Yates as the last winners here. It's the final climb and final moments of the race, meaning it will be a dramatic finish to the race right up until the final meters.
It seems as if it will be a dry and warm start to the week and the final two days may have some rain, they will surely be a lot colder, below 20 degrees.
Most of the main riders coming here are sure to be targeting the Vuelta in a few weeks and here they're taking their final block of racing before traveling to Spain for a few weeks. There are some names to take into acount.
Astana is the main team to take into consideration, having Miguel Angel Lopez and Ion Izagirre in a split lead. The Colombian is a better climber but he won't have the long climbs where he can profit but that's where the Spaniard can capitalize. Adding to that they come with brilliant support, counting with riders like Hirt, Kudus and Cataldo who can be there in the most important moments. The other team with a co-leadership that comes with real ambitions to take the race is Bora with home rider Rafal Majka and Davide Formolo. In the Giro this duo worked very well, Formolo has been having a great season and is a perfect rider for this kind of race, very strong on these short climbs but tactically brilliant and has the legs to power on the flat terrain, as for Majka he has an history in this race and will be cheered by the fans out on the road, he's good in this type of climbing and having Formolo can come as the perfect setup.
After a surprising and successful debut at World Tour level in May, Sergio Higuita is already coming as one of the hot favourites for the GC, he's been one of the revelations of the season and is a very explosive climbers, seems to fit well both in long and short climbs, lack of experience may come as harmful, seeing his team isn't set on a strong block behind him. Diego Ulissi on the other side has had quite a run since the end of the Giro, winning the Tour of Slovenia, the GP Lugano and the Tokyo test event. It's quite a long run of form but his most recent result (Tokyo) was a dominant win, he comes with Valerio Conti and Simone Petilli and is a big contender for the podium, and the win too if his form is still there, there's too Bjorg Lambrecht who's been having another strong season, perfect for the steep finish and can handle the climbs in hand.
Pavel Sivakov and Tao Hart lead the INEOS team, will be interesting to see how they race again in a co-lead scenario, something that INEOS has tested this season and has worked very well, in Deceuninck it's James Knox and Bob Jungels, a good duo as Jungels is a rider that is currently without the pressure of stage-racing and won't be in the eyes of the GC contenders, and Knox is still a relatively new face. Domenico Pozzovivo leads Bahrain, eyeing a strong result before the Vuelta where he will get the chance to lead the team.
There are some other minor contenders, Movistar come with an interesting squad, bringing Anacona, Betancur and Sepulveda for the GC, Chris Hamilton of Sunweb, Mikel Nieve and Damie Howson of Mitchelton, Gianluca Brambilla of Trek, from AG2R there's a return of Pierre Latour who will have pressure to realize if he is finally back in form after a prolonged injury, alongside Alexander Geniez, and in the local CCC team it's expected that Amaro Antunes will lead, but Simon Geschke and Serge Pauwels may bring the Tour form, and finally there's also a mention to Alexandr Vlasov of RusVelo.
Here there may be an even more luxurious list of riders, with the opening three stages easy calls for the sprinters and another opportunity in stage 5 the sprinters will be happy with the amount of opportunities.
Pascal Ackermann is coming back after a short stint of racing after the Giro, coming with his leadout and having reputation of winning the two opening stages last year, he comes as possibly the main favourite for the flat stages but competition is aplenty. Mainly from Fabio Jakobsen, he won't have the strong leadout that he's used to have in the last few months with the team but he sure has the legs as he's proven already.
A question mark will be over Fernando Gaviria as he returns after his Giro abandon and a knee injury, he comes with Simone Consonni and has undoubted sprint quality but the questions will be upon his form over his quality. Powerhouse Max Walscheid will appreciate the pan-flat stages as will Jakub Mareczko and... Mark Cavendish? He's here, more questions than answers over his performance, he is clearly a whole level below some of the other sprinters in general power but perhaps his sprint is still there, in such flat stages he might have an opportunity to prove that he still has what it takes to race in the World Tour.
There's also Danny van Poppel, Sacha Modolo, John Degenkolb, some secondary sprinters that have been far from their best results, Marc Sarreau will be a joker to consider in these, Filippo Fortin will be leading Cofidis' leadout and expecting stage 5 will be Clement Venturini and Luka Mezgec, well fitted to that finale.
⭐ Sivakov, Hart, Knox, Pozzovivo, Betancur, Antunes, Vlasov
I'll go for Formolo to the overall. With Majka the team will be looking to win the race with one of them, Formolo is more fitted and the undpredicatble racing that is sure to come favours him and he will be really motivated racing for the first time with the Italian colours.
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