By David Hunter
Just a week after the Tour finished, stage racing is back. The Tour of Poland offers riders coming from France an opportunity to use their form, but it also provides riders targeting the Vuelta a chance to see how they are after a period at altitude.
The race begins with a standard sprint stage in Krakow. The organisers love a lap circuit.
Another standard sprint stage.
And the last of the standard sprint stages.
New finish alert! After the success of the steep finish in Szczyrk, which was used in 2017 and 2018, the organisers have managed to find something a little harder for the bunch. This is a brutal finish and one where we’ll see some gaps.
This was the stage Kwiatkowski won in a sprint from Dylan Teuns, but Pascal Ackermann hauled himself over the hills and managed to finish 4th. It’s a finish that is difficult, but offers sprinters a chance of getting to the end to fight with the puncheurs.
This is the big GC day, with seven cat 1 climbs. Each lap will see more riders eliminated before a small GC group tackle the final climbs. The final climb, 4.2km at 6.7%, crests with just 2.5km remaining.
The final stage features the traditional finish at Bukowina Resort, but it’s much easier than in previous years. A relatively flat final 20km will make it difficult for riders looking to move up the GC, which is a shame for fans.
Bora – they arrive with co-leaders in Majka and Formolo. Both of these riders are great options for the win, but tactics will have to be decided on the road. Formolo is enjoying his best ever season and is the new Italian champion. Majka was 6th in the Giro, but hasn’t raced since. He is riding on home soil, which will be a huge motivating factor for him. Having both of these riders in their team will give Bora a massive tactical advantage in the GC stages.
Astana – the team had a relatively quiet Tour de France, which was a surprise considering their season to date. They arrive in Poland with Ion Izagirre and Miguel Ángel Lopez, both of whom are looking to test their legs ahead of the Vuelta. You would have to think that the Colombian would prefer longer climbs, but the Basque man will like the short, punchy hills. Remember that he won the Basque Country title earlier this season, but both will be worried about peaking too soon ahead of the big race in Spain.
Diego Ulissi – after a Giro where he spent most of his time riding for others, Ulissi has been in great recent form. He won GP Lugano, the Tour of Slovenia and the Olympic test event. Despite a long history of brilliant performances, the Italian rarely threatens in world tour stage races, something I’m sure he’d look to put right. His fast finish is perfect for collecting stages and bonus seconds, making him a big threat in this race. One issue could be tactics, as Ulissi can be a hugely frustrating rider to follow, as he often refuses to work and chase riders down.
Sergio Higuita – I’m excited to see the hugely talented Colombian on the start list. He was 2nd on debut for EF in California. The youngster has just turned 22 and is an enormous talent, one that EF are delighted to have. This is his second world tour event, which means I shouldn’t put too much pressure on his shoulders, the same will go for his team. They’ll be delighted if he can challenge for a stage, and no doubt he’ll be taking the GC day by day.
Bjorg Lambrecht – another youngster who’s enjoyed a great season. Strong in the Basque Country, brilliant in the Ardennes, he even managed to win the white jersey in the Dauphiné. Lotto know they have a huge talent on their hands, and I expect him to be up challenging for the overall win in this race. He might be only 22, but this is a great race for him.
James Knox – the young British rider is fresh from just taking his first podium finish in the professional ranks, he was 3rd in Adriatica Ionica Race. 2019 was going well for him, especially as his good performances meant his grand tour debut at the Giro, but an early crash ended that race. A period of recovery followed, before he set some new targets for the season, which should include the Vuelta. The Italian race will have given him some confidence, and he’s also just announced a new two-year deal with QuickStep, which is a great news for everyone concerned. Riding in the same team as Bob Jungels means there is no guarantee of freedom, but given his recent form I think the team will allow him the opportunity to chase personal glory.
Bora hold the cards, which will make life difficult for everyone else, especially as the standard is a little lower this year. We’ll have to see what happens on the road, but this looks like one for Davide Formolo, a man in great current form.