Conor has a hit piece out against the month of August (as related to cycling, I assume he’s not one of those monsters that likes winter better than summer). This may be a very hipstery position to take- but I think August is great, and you should too! First, the Tour is finally over. To mix metaphors, all of the fair weather fans have gone back into the woodwork. We no longer have to read and rehash the same arguments about Froome, and cheating, and Team Sky’s domination. We no longer have to rely upon stories that don’t happen on the road to keep us interested. We actually get to watch racing that does not feel predetermined. Sure, the tv cameras may fail at San Sebastian, but the racing is still usually great. Binck Bank, nee Eneco, nee Benelux is always entertaining and gives us some spring classics action in the late summer. If you combine the competitiveness of the Tour with the wildness of the Giro, you get the Vuelta, where you sure as shit won’t have to endure 8 flat stages before getting to the fireworks factory.
Here’s a hot take for you-- the
Tour de Pologne (let’s just drop the French pretension though) Tour of Poland is one of the best stage races on the calendar. A wide variety of riders can win the race-- from GC riders, to puncheurs, to strong sprinters. The last 10 years have seen the diverse talents of Peter Sagan, Moreno Moser, Dan Martin, and Rafal Majka take the victory. The course always encourages aggressive riding, rather than conservatism.
Most of all, though, due to its position on the calendar, the Tour of Poland is often a redemption race for previously struggling riders. Most of the Tour riders (besides the ones that got stuck on domestique duty or crashed out early) aren’t present. Instead, there is a glut of riders on the startlist whose seasons haven’t gone according to plan for one reason or another. These riders know that there isn’t much time left to get the season back on track with the Vuelta looming. There’s a sense of urgency and desperation from the peloton. Last year, Rafal Majka crashed out of Tour, and then came in 2nd in Poland. Woet Poels got injured in beginning of season, and then took 3rd after coming back in Poland. Wilco Kelderman dnf’d the Giro, and then took a 4th place in Poland, with only 10 seconds separating him and the winner Dylan Teuns. That pattern was repeated in 2016. Tim Wellens and Ion Izagirre DNF’d at the Tour de Suisse, and then took 1st and 2nd respectively in Poland, with Wellens sealing his victory on a rain battered and fog smothered stage that looked like Apocalypse Now on bikes.
The course this year looks like a typical Tour of Poland route turned up a few notches. The first three stages should all be bunch sprints and are mercifully short- ranging from 133.7 kilometers to 156 kilometers. The action will kick off with a very interesting stage 4, with all 4 of the last stages designed to promote action. Mercifully for Davide Formolo and his time-test impaired ilk, there are no stages against the clock this year.
Stage 4 - Jaworzno to Szczyrk - 179 km
I love everything about this stage, from the lack of vowels in the finishing town name to the course profiles to the scenery along the way.
Let’s zoom in on those last 5 kilometers:
That’s right - the last kilometer is going to be a tough one at a 11.6% average gradient. Here’s what it will look like near the top:
Before that, the riders will be faced with the Szczyrku ascent, which is 5.1 km at 5.9%, the Zameczek climb twice, which is 2.3 km at 8.6%, and the Szczyrku ascent from the other side, which is 5.3 km at 6.7%, finishing with a descent to the foot of the Can’t-Buy-a-Vowel wall.
Stage 5 - Kopalnia Soli to Bielsko-Biala - 152 km
Stage 5 is another nicely designed stage, which gives an opportunity to many different types of riders. The first few hills aren’t much and the sprinters should survive, but will have a tougher time on the 3.9 km, 6.5% climb before the circuit, which will feature 4 laps with a 2 kilometer uncategorized climb at around 5%.
Stage 6 - Zakopane to Bukovina - 129 km
The penultimate stage comes as close to a mountain top finish as the Tour of Poland will get this year, with the oft-used climb to the finish at the water park/hot spring Bukovina Resort. However, this stage uses a different route up to the finish line of the resort than used in the past, which gives the riders 3 kilometers of flattish road after the crest of the climb.
Stage 7 - Bukovina Resort to Bukowina Tatrzanska - 136 km
I guess the organizers figured that Carlos Betancur would get himself lodged in the waterslide, so they decided to have the peloton stay at the resort for one more day while the jaws of life are brought in. This route follows the more typical Bukovina Resort stage course as seen during many past editions.
THE FAST MEN SEEKING REDEMPTION
There is a Vuelta-esque motley crew of sprinters that will be competing during the first 3 stages, many of them also seeking some redemption this season. After going ape shit during the Tour on Twitter and going bat shit and signing with the shit small Fortuneo Samsic for next year, Andre Greipel will be here trying to get something out of his shit show of a season. He’ll be hoping not to get boxed in during the sprints by Nacer Bouhanni, who I’m suuuuuure is not apoplectic after being left off of Cofidis’s Tour team. Matteo Trentin has been having a bit of a milquetoast season with his new team Mitchelton-Scott and seems to be suffering from the Lefevere curse after leaving Quickstep (along with Marcel Kittel). Speaking of curses, both Sacha Modolo and Dan McLay have looked effed all year after moving to Team EF’d. For some effing reason, Vaughters has brought them both to this race, employing the always successful 2 sprinter strategy. Giacomo Nizzolo has finally showed some signs of life at the London-Surrey Classic with a third place finish and will be hoping for an Indian summer at the end of this season to make up for all of his lost time. One sprinter who needs no redemption is Pascal Ackermann, who has had a breakthrough season— winning London-Surrey, the German national road race, and stages at the Dauphine and Romandie, as well as a slew of podium finishes in the Spring. Other sprinters that should be in the mix include Alvaro Hodeg, Phil Bauhaus, Danny Van Poppel, Simone Consonni, and Jurgen Roelandts.
THE GC REDEMPTION CANIDATES
With the absence of time trial kilometers, this is a race that should suit the punchy climbers. The favorite of that category has to be Simon Yates, who will be looking to avenge his pyrrhic victory at the Giro. If he’s even close to the form that he showed in stages 1 through 18, he’ll be tough to beat.
Speaking of form, Michal Kwiatkowski seemed to be in fine vintage at the Tour. He filled the Kiryienka terminator role nicely, and looked more like the T-1000 as he shredded the peloton for Sky while barely breaking a sweat. He’ll be the patriotic favorite and will be looking to unleash his pent up domestique rage.
Since being promoted to the top level of the sport, no rider has won Poland more than once. Dylan Teuns does not seem destined to break that pattern. Besides a 6th place finish at Paris-Nice, he’s looked well below the raging run of form that he had last year. He’s also now in a lame duck contract with BMC after signing for Bah-Meh for next year, which may temper his motivation.
Remember back in February when Alexey Lutsenko tricked many vds players with his performance in Oman? Well, I don’t want to raise your hopes too much, but he’s started to look like that early season rider again. While the Kazakh championship that he won wasn’t the most competitive, he looked explosive in Austria, even though the mountains were a little too high to give him a chance at the GC. The course in Poland should suit him much better.
“Where’s Wallace at?” isn’t just a quote from The Wire. It’s also what the tifosi have been asking regarding Fabio Aru this season after he’s been all but invisible in every race he’s entered. The answer to that question was in Wallonia last week for some reason and in Poland this week.
Thibaut Pinot was left a broken man after his torrid love affair with Italy ended badly. He’s now back on the market and looking for a new country to settle down with, though I’m not sure if Poland is his type.
Speaking of love affairs with countries, Rui Costa and Simon Spilak were in a love triangle with Switzerland but both got dumped this year. The course this year has some Swiss tendencies, which both might find to their liking.
The list of potential winners at this race is long. Here’s a few more of them: Alberto Bettiol, Rohan Dennis, Dries Devenyns, Michael Albasini, Roman Kreuziger, Emanuel Buchmann, Davide Formolo, Peter Kennaugh, Patrick Konrad, Sergio Henao, Carlos Betancur, Richard Carapaz, Giovanni Visconti, Enrico Gasparotto, Moreno Moser, Jan Bakelants, Sam Oomen, George Bennett, Gianluca Brambilla, Fabio Felline, Ruben Guerreiro.