It is less than a week since the 2022 Tour de France ended but the Vuelta a España is already looming on the horizon for the likes of Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and so the Tour de Pologne, which starts this Saturday, represents the Ecuadorian’s first step to the final Grand Tour of 2022.
The Tour de Pologne offers riders like Carapaz, back in action for the first time since he took the runner’s up spot of Giro d’Italia last May, a week-long mixture of very hilly, but not excessively difficult stages, one potentially decisive uphill time trial and three flat stages.
In other words, this is an unpredictable nervous race where ambushes and sudden skirmishes can quickly morph into a full scale GC battle, exactly the kind of week-long event that Carapaz relishes as we saw with his devastating surprise attack in a seemingly uncomplicated stage in the Volta and Catalunya this spring.
On a personal front, Pologne 2022 also represents an opportunity for Carapaz to set the record straight after the South American took a spectacular stage win and the lead in the 2020 edition of the race, only to crash badly and abandon the race.
Carapaz is the stand-out GC contender at the Tour de Pologne but the 2022 race also features a star-studded lineup of sprinters.
Mark Cavendish (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) will be making his debut in his British national champion’s colors and Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain Victorious)) and top German fastman Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates) will also be very much in the running for stage victories.
Every stage will also be a chance for teams to score UCI ranking points as the battle to avoid relegation from the WorldTour intensifies.
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The sprinters may have to wait until Sunday for their first chance, as the lengthy opening stage from the easterly town of Kielce to Lublin ends with a short, punchy uphill finish.
Sunday’s almost equally long stage, a 205.6 kilometer race between Chelm -Zamosc, should see the first mass dash for the line, and Wednesday’s even flatter run from Lankut to Rzeszow will likely see a second. Finally, Friday’s finale in Krakow, featuring a fast, not overly technical, triple series of concluding laps through Poland’s historic former capital has all the ingredients for a bunch sprint.
While stage one’s late ascent in Lublin could favor someone like Niklas Arndt, winner on a very similar type of uphill finish last year in Pologne at Bielsko-Biala, or Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates), the opening day of racing may also produce a first, slight weeding out of potential GC candidates.
No matter what happens in the opening weekend, Monday and Tuesday are almost certain to reduce the number of GC challengers for Pologne much further.
Although stage 3’s mammoth 237.9 kilometer stage culminates in the same brutally difficult kilometer long uphill finish in Prezemysl as in 2021, where overall winner Joao Almeida staked a hefty down payment on his final victory, it also contains three classified climbs late on. With a 20-kilometre gap between the last ascent, the third category Gruszow and the finish, such a finale could yet favor any Classics racers present even more than the GC specialists. A second opportunity for Ulissi perhaps.
Stage 4’s 179 kilometer stage from Lesko to Sanok is a very different story. Running entirely through the little-known Sanocko-Turczańskie mountain range, featuring numerous uncategorized hills and descents, and with nearly 3,000 meters of vertical climbing, as well as a stiff little uphill finish, any of the non-time trial specialists seeking to impact on the overall will have made a move here.
One of the most unpredictable elements of Pologne will be the weather, normally warm and humid, but often hit by sudden, heavy summer downpours which in 2016 caused more than 90 abandons on a single stage and the cancellation of the following day’s racing.
The most decisive stage will almost certainly be Thursday’s 11.8-kilometre uphill time trial in the Tatras mountains.
Peaking after 10 kilometers and with some 350 meters of elevation gain, it will again create some major time differences in the overall classification. Last year it cemented Joao Almeida’s overall victory and given the one, flat final, almost ceremonial stage that follows, those gaps which will be hard to challenge.
If Carapaz is the top of the bill, he is not the only Vuelta a España contender tackling Pologne’s 1,220-kilometre course this week.
Volta a Catalunya winner Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe), whose one Grand Tour this year is the Vuelta, is also back in action. The 2022 Pologne line-up also boasts two former winners of the weeklong race in the shape of local star Michel Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers) and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) plus Bahrain Victorious’ successful allrounder Pello Bilbao.
On the sprinting front, young Dutch fastman Olav Kooij (Jumbo-Visma) will surely be up for giving the more well-established figures a run for their money. Other outsiders include Italian duo Matteo Moschetti (Trek-Segafredo) and Jakub Marezko (Alpecin-Deceuninck).
While the 2020 Tour of Pologne saw a certain Remco Evenepoel take a major step forward in his incipient career with a memorably long late break, interest this year will also be high in how two of Ineos Grenadiers promising stars, Ethan Hayter and Magnus Sheffield, managed to perform here.
At the other end of the spectrum, the ultra-experienced breakaway specialist Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) is also taking part and Mark Padun (EF Education-EasyPost), makes his return to racing after a month’s break.
Running so close to Padun’s native Ukraine for much of the week, with one finish on stage 3 at Przemysl less than 10 kilometers from the border, it would be impossible for the Tour de Pologne to ignore the ongoing conflict. Indeed the race has adopted the motto ‘A Race for Peace’ for this year.
As the official website puts it: “This is a form of support for the Ukrainian people, so close to the border, as well as a way of conveying the value of brotherhood and peace.”
Tour de Pologne stages:
Saturday 30th July: stage 1: Kielce – Lublin 218.8km
Sunday 31st July: stage 2: Chelm -Zamosc 205.6km
Monday 1st August: stage 3: Krasnik – Przemysl 237.9 km
Tuesday 2nd August: stage 4: Lesko-Sanov 179.4km
Wednesday 3rd August: stage 5: Lankut-Rzeszow 178.1km
Thursday 4th August: stage 6: Nowy Targ – Rusinski 11.8km (individual TT)
Friday 5th August: stage 7: Valsir – Krakow 177.8 km