The Tour de Pologne has been part of the UCI WorldTour since its inception in 2011 – and was part of its predecessor, the UCI ProTour – but this year, for the very first time, the host country has a UCI WorldTeam competing: CCC Team.
CCC has sponsored a pro cycling team since 2000 but remained in the Pro Continental ranks until everything came together at the same time: company owner Dariusz Milek was keen to step up, and BMC Racing Team was looking for a takeover. The partnership was announced during the 2018 Tour de France by Jim Ochowicz, the pioneer who brought the 7-Eleven Cycling Team to Europe in the 1980s and delivered North America’s first rider to wear the yellow jersey at the Tour de France with Canada’s Alex Stieda in 1986. “Och” has been one of the most influential worldwide personalities across a diverse range of roles in cycling over the past four decades. But he never forgot his roots. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1951, he remembers: “My grandfather migrated to the USA from Poland.”
There are a few other big names in American cycling that sound Polish, Eddie Borysewicz – or Eddie B as he is known - probably being the most famous of them. Borysewicz, born in a north-eastern part of Poland which is now in Belarus, discovered and developed the likes of Greg LeMond. Poland is sometimes seen as a new territory for the sport of cycling due to the emergence of races, teams and riders but the Tour de Pologne is actually enjoying its 76th edition – while, just to give an historical perspective, the coming edition of the Vuelta a España will be the 74th. Its inception goes back to 1928. However, the race only became open to professionals in 1993 and the victory of former UCI World Champion and Italian superstar Maurizio Fondriest one year later launched a new era in Polish cycling.
History was made in 2014 in Ponferrada, Spain, when Michal Kwiatkowski became the first Polish Elite road race UCI World Champion, but the rainbow jersey was nothing new in the country that celebrated four Amateur UCI World Champions in the 1970s and ’80s (Ryszard Szurkowski, Janusz Kowalski, Lech Piasecki and Joachim Halupczok) plus five other medallists. It was four times more than the big neighbours USSR in that period. The current Director of the Tour de Pologne Czeslaw Lang, himself a winner of the race in 1980 and regarded as the figurehead of Polish cycling since then, was the silver medallist for road racing at the Moscow 1980 Olympics behind the untouchable Sergeï Soukhoroutchenkov who was considered the equivalent of Bernard Hinault of the other side of the iron curtain at the time.
Milek, 51, is nostalgic for the previous golden age of Polish cycling. He was a promising cyclist himself until a bad injury derailed his career. Now a wealthy shoes and bags manufacturer at the helm of a huge European retail network, he wants to develop future Polish champions beyond the generation of Kwiatkowski and Rafal Majka. As soon as he put resources into the former BMC Racing Team built around reigning Olympic Champion Greg Van Avermaet, he transformed his previous UCI Pro Continental team into a Continental development team set to nurture Polish talents.
The CCC Team that takes part in the 76th Tour de Pologne speaks mostly Polish with Kamil Gradek, Jakub Mareczko, Lukasz Owsian and the 2018 UCI World Champion for Omnium, Szymon Sajnok, as part of the seven-man line up along with Germany’s Simon Geschke and Belgium’s Serge Pauwels who have just completed the Tour de France, as well as Portugal’s Antero Antunes. Mareczko is an Italian but he was born in Jaroslaw, Poland, and speaks perfect Polish too. A top sprinter in the making with a great number of victories in Asia and several second places at the Giro d’Italia, he finished sixth in the first royal bunch sprint won in Krakow by Pascal Ackermann ahead of Fernando Gaviria and Fabio Jakobsen.
“We are very excited to race in front of the Polish fans, on our home roads and to represent our sponsor CCC as the first Polish UCI WorldTeam in the most prestigious race in Poland,” Sport Director Piotr Wadecki proudly commented. It’s the message of a true cycling nation.