Tour de Pologne or Tour of Poland starts today and it's time to upload some more info about the stages. I decided not to write the whole preview (I already did in Polish) but to post basic information about every stage plus some interesting stories about places the race visits. I will be reporting some of the stages on site, so I'll try to do kind of a coverage - quotes and stuff like that.
As I'm sure you already know, 2013 Tour of Poland is not exactly the race you'd expect it to be. It's 70th edition but the thing is that it starts in Trentino, Italy. Peculiar for a one-week race to start so far away from place of its destination, isn't it?
Why Italy? Many reasons are given - longtime historical and cultural connection between both countries and desire to organize real mountain stages are the most obvious. Race director - Czesław Lang grew up as a cyclist in Italy and has always dreamt of visiting the country with his national race. Trentino region also benefits from the organization.
Many of you may not know that but by "longtime historical and cultural connections" date back to late 18th century, when, after the Third Partition in 1795, Poland stopped exiting as a country and disappeared from maps for 123 years. In the wake of Napoleonic era, many people, including soldiers, emigrated to France, Belgium and Italy. In Italy Polish army was formed and so called "Polish legions" fought on Bonaparte's side, hoping that when Austria, Prussia and Rusia lose the war, Poland will be rebuilt. Polish national anthem was composed in Italy and there are several references to this moment in the lines of Dąbrowki's Mazurka. The line "from the Italian land to Poland" is used by the organizers as race motto.
There's also one more connection between two countries - pope John Paul II who lived in Italy for many years and contributed to the growth of interactions between both nations.
Winning a mountain stage today, at the very begining of the race, is cool, there are a lot of riders in the peleton who would like to do so. But remember, teams only have six riders, so, in my opinion, if somebody is thinking about standing on the podium in Kraków, he won't be really eager to take the jersey on today's stage. Leading the race means responsibility and puts rider (and his team) in the position where they have to chase the break down and control the race - the task that is not so easy when you have 6 riders and tough mountain stage ahead.
Stage 1 starts from Rovereto and it's not a typical stage of Tour de Pologne we used to see in recent years. In fact, it looks more like a stage of Giro d'Italia or Giro del Trentino and whether you like it or not, it's going to be a challenging day, one of the key points of the race in the fight for the general classification.
The first climb of the day - Fai della Paganella (10,8 km; 7%) - emerges after almost 50km section. The profile shows only three categorized climbs but when you look at the second part of the stage, you'll see Passo del Ballino - uncategorized ascent, also around 10km long, leading to the 2nd category climb of Passo Durone (5 km; 6.1%). The ultimate challenge is a well known climb of Madonna di Campiglio (8,5 km; 6.7%, max. 10%), where riders will battle for the stage win.
There are three intermediate sprints and one "special sprint" on today's stage - the first one is on a flat section before Fai della Paganella, the second one is on the descent and the last one
With new race rules and six riders per squad it's extremly hard to pick today's winner. The difficulty of the stage and mountain finish should be suitable for climbers and all-rounders. Vincenzo Nibali could be in the mix, as he has the chance to fight in front of his fans from Italy. Colombians - Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao cannot be underestimated when it comes to mountain finishes. Depending on their legs and state of preparations to the main goals of the second part of the season, we may witness another Colomian charge on the slopes of Italian climbs.
When it comes to picking a winner, I wouldn't rule out Simon Spilak and Darwin Atapuma, my today's favourite, however, comes from Switzerland and has recently won two stages of Tour of Austria.
There are also Polish riders who climb well and I won't be suprised if one of them gives it a go today. Rafał Majka seems to be in pretty good shape - he's preparing for the Vuelta but promised to fight. Movistar's Sylweter Szmyd wasn't selected for the Tour de France squad and now wouldn't mind trying some kind of solo action on the last climb.
The stage starts pretty late - 1:30pm and the riders are expected to cross the finish line between 6:21 and 6:45pm. Such late hours are nothing new - I presume that it's all because of the number of people watching - 7:30pm is an hour of daily news program in TVP (Poland's main public broadcasting corporation) that is also responsible for the coverage of the race.