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64th Tour de Pologne - ProT

Poland, September 9-15, 2007

Final 2007 ProTour stage race will end with a bang

Many GC contenders signed on

By Bjorn Haake

Defending champion Stefan Schumacher is racing the Vuelta this year and opens up the way for a new man to win. His Gerolsteiner team will be headed by German road champion Fabian Wegmann this time around, with Bernhard Kohl able to offer assistance in the mountains and Heinrich Haussler leaving the options open for sprint wins.

One of the previous champions, Kim Kirchen of T-Mobile, will however be there and trying to repeat his 2005 victory. He can count on super-domestique Marcus Burghardt, with T-Mobile also taking Bernhard Eisel and Gerald Ciolek in the hope of overpowering the other sprinters.

Discovery Channel, in its last stage race ever, will try to throw up a challenge for the overall as well, and is relying on Yaroslav Popovych to do so. Liquigas is sending Giro winner Danilo Di Luca, who will try to take the honours after seven days of racing, while Ag2r Prévoyance is counting on John Gadret to get a top placing.

Teams like Quick.Step-Innergetic (Vasseur and Visconti), Saunier Duval-Prodir (Ricc˛), Predictor-Lotto (Rodriguez), Milram (Sieberg and Knees), Unibet (Casper and Cooke) and Lampre (Ballan and Baldato) will bring along men for sprints and stage wins, but Rabobank is banking on youngster Robert Gesink, who won the young rider's classification in the Tour of California and got fifth in the Deutschland Tour this year, to challenge for the overall. Gesink is going well in the mountains and may put his mark on this year's Tour de Pologne.

Euskaltel-Euskadi (Jon Bru), Caisse d'Epargne ( José Ivan Gutierrez), Bouygues Telecom (Thomas Voeckler) and Franšaise Des Jeux (Sandy Casar) are also all hoping for stage victories through brave attacking. A team making its return to racing is Astana, having been sidelined for a month after its recent string of doping scandals with Kessler, Vinokourov and Kashechkin. They will have Iglinsky and Ivanov to try for stage wins.

One of the strongest outfits at the tour will be Danish team CSC. They will line up with Deutschland-Rundfahrt winner Jens Voigt, the ever dangerous Schleck brothers and Bobby Julich. In order to guarantee they won't lose any time in the team time trial, CSC are throwing in Fabian Cancellara, winner of the 2007 Tour de France prologue in London.

The race is not shy of famous names, with HervÚ Duclos-Lassalle (Cofidis), son of former Paris-Roubaix winner Gilbert, and Nicolas Roche (Crédit Agricole), son of Stephen Roche, the rare winner of a triple Giro-Tour-Worlds. Roche's team-mate Sebastian Hinault does share his last name with famous five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault, but is not related to him.

The field is completed by Polish team Action-Uniqa and Italy-based Ceramica Flaminia.

Last climb will decide the race

The week-long Tour de Pologne starts out in Poland's capital, Warsaw, with an interesting event. A team time trial does not happen too often, but a team time trial of only three kilometres really is a rarity. And then running the whole event on a one-kilometre course, to be done three times, will get a unique stage that may create lots of chaos on the day - but will at least be spectator friendly. The hope of race organisers is that the five-minute gaps in-between teams will be enough so previous team have already cleared the course.

After that the sprinters will likely put their stamp on the next few stages, with a likely small breakaway getting some TV exposure before being gobbled up by the bunch. Stage two goes from Plonsk to Olsztyn, over 202.4 kilometres, followed by the peloton inching closer to the Baltic Sea and ending stage three in the port town of Gdansk, after 192.2 kilometres. This will feature the first categorized climb in Elblag, but is only halfway through the stage and too early to deter the sprinters.

Stage four, 242 kilometres from Chjnice to Poznan, features another categorized climb in the middle of the stage and the sprinters will still be eager to get everything together for a mad dash to the line in one big bunch.

Stage five will be the longest day in the saddle, with the riders having to ride 255 kilometres from Wrzesnia to Swidnica and while there is again a lack of categorized climbing, the last one hundred kilometres are steady, slight uphill and leave the possibility of a small breakaway or a last-minute attacker to surprise the sprinters' trains. And after 255 kilometres, nobody will know how their legs respond anyway, so even one of the lesser known riders may have a chance to take the stage.

And then finally comes the day that all the mountain goats have been waiting for. Any one of the lean bodies suited to the uphill challenges that hasn't lost valuable time due to crashes or other misfortunes will be eager to get the 181 kilometres tackled between Dzierzoniow and Jelenia Gora.

Right form the start the road tilts upward and only after some 400 metres of climbing will the peloton be rewarded with the first downhill of the day, but only to face another uphill immediately after that. Once they reach the top of the Przelecz Kowarska after 91 kilometres, they will face the toughest part of the stage. Three times the peloton will go over the Karpacz, at 800 metres the highest point of the tour. The climb has its reputation from making then difference on the last day of the race, where it traditionally features.

This year is no different and the final day from Jelenia Gora to the stage finish at the Karpacz will bring the decision in the overall classification after 147.7 kilometres, but not before offering the racers the pleasure of mastering the climb six times in addition to the final ascent.