The new era of the Tour de Pologne

Jul 6, 2020, 14:03 PM

It was a crucial year for the Tour de Pologne in 1993. National legend Czeslaw Lang got the role of new Director and he transformed a race that had, until that time, remained purely aimed at amateurs into one of the fastest growing competitions on the UCI WorldTour calendar, with increasingly renowned participants and winners.

 

Lang’s best year as a competitive rider came in 1980 when he won the Tour de Pologne, the Settimana Ciclistica Lombarda and most notably, the silver medal in 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow behind the Soviet athlete Siergiej Suchoruczenkow. Previously he had won the bronze at the 1977 UCI Road World Championships in San Cristóbal (Venezuela) and silver at the 1979 UCI Road World Championships in Valkenburg (the Netherlands), both in the men's amateur team time trial. 

 

 

Thanks to his bright amateur career, in 1982 Lang became the first professional cyclist not only from Poland, but from the entire Eastern Bloc, signing a professional contract with the Italian team GIS Gelati-Campagnolo. He took part in nine editions of the Giro d'Italia and three Tours de France and won 30 professional races including two stages of the Corsa Rosa, prologues of Tirreno-Adriatico, Tour de Romandie and Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, the "golden kilometer" in Mestre and the Trofeo Baracchi together with Lech Piasecki. He retired in 1989.

 

The Tour de Pologne’s amateur era

 

Just four years later, he was appointed Director of the Tour of Pologne with the clear plan to pursue the original idea of the founders in 1928 – Warsaw Cycling Society and the Przegląd Sportowy sports newspaper – who had been inspired by the Grande Boucle to give Poland a great race. The first edition of Wyścig Dookoła Polski (‘Race Around Poland’, its original name) was held from 7 to 11 September 1928 with 71 riders and after its 1500km route, Felix Więcek from Bydgoszcz Cycling Club became the first winner. 

 

 

The Polish tour halted because of World War II, with no editions held between 1939 and 1947, and subsequently three local riders – Marian Wieckowski (1954, 1955 and 1956), Andrzej Mierzejewski (1982, 1984 and 1988) and Dariusz Baranowski (1991, 1992 and 1993) – were each able to win three times. But it was a competition mostly raced by amateurs and before Lang there had been just four foreign champions: the Italian Francesco Locatelli (1949), the Belgians Roger Diercken (1960) and André Delcroix (from 1974) and the Spaniard José Viejo (1972).

 

The new international era

 

But thanks to Lang’s hard work, the competition gradually took a more international scope and began to attract prominent riders. The 1994 winner, Italian former UCI Road World Champion Maurizio Fondriest, was followed by several other famous colleagues in the next decade including the Russian Sergej Ivanov in 1998, two times former UCI Hour Record Ondřej Sosenka (2001 and 2004) from the Czech Republic, and another former rainbow jersey, the Frenchman Laurent Brochard (2002).

 

Italian Alessandro Ballan won the 2009 edition also wearing the rainbow jersey, while Slovakian Peter Sagan became ToP champion five years before his first road gold medal, in 2011. The Tour de Pologne more recently celebrated victory for two of its best home-grown riders in Rafal Majka (2014) and Michal Kwiatkowski (2018).

 

Victories for Majka and Kwiatkowski

 

In 2014 the race started in the city of Gdańsk, home of the Solidarność union, marking the 25th anniversary of democracy in Poland. In the 71st edition Majka built his victory winning the two most difficult stages – both times beating all the favourites in reduced groups – on the top of Štrbské Pleso in Slovakia for the fifth stage victory, and gain the following day in Bukowina Tatrzańska. He assumed the GC leadership on the last time trial stage in Warsaw won by Belgian Kristof Vandewalle, overtaking the incumbent yellow jersey, the Czech rider Petr Vakoč, who had won the second stage after a breakaway.

 

 

In the 75th edition in 2018, Michal Kwiatkowski won the fourth stage in Szczyrk and the fifth in Bielsko-Biala, both from the Belgian Dylan Teuns. The Polish rider maintained his GC lead on the tough last stage won by the Briton Simon Yates in front of Frenchman Thibaut Pinot who became second and third overall, respectively.

 

The victories of Majka and Kwiatkowski demonstrate that not only the Tour de Pologne, but also the whole Polish cycling movement has grown considerably in recent years. The last edition of the race, in 2019, went to the Russian Pavel Sivakov.

 

Thanks to his great job as Director of the race, Czeslaw Lang was awarded fifth position on a special list of the most influential personalities in Polish sport, according to Forbes Poland in 2018. Just as he was on the road, Lang was in great company on that list, behind other national legends Zbigniew Boniek, President of Poland’s football federation and former player for Juventus and Roma; Robert Lewandowski, record-setting forward with Bayern Munich and the Polish national football team, then two ex-world and Olympic ski jump gold medalists, Adam Malysz and Kamil Stoch.

 

The 2020 edition of Tour de Pologne is set from 5 to 9 of August.