Stage 3 of the Tour de Pologne was supposed to be a day for the climbers. The hard first category climbs in the second half of the stage saw the all-rounders and sprinters dropped almost immediately, but riding comfortably in the bunch, UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, along with teammate Rafał Majka, were not only in the bunch, but challenging for the win in a hard and steep final kilometre. This incredible performance by BORA-hansgrohe saw Peter retake the race lead, with Rafał moving up to third in the GC.
The Tour de Pologne hit the mountains today, and on a stage that didn’t pull any punches, it was clear riders were going to be hurting at the end of the day. The flat opening 70km lulled riders into a false sense of security, before the road pointed skyward not just for one, but for four first category climbs. The 161km parcours really would result in a race of two halves – but the second half was where the race had the potential to really come to life. Narrow roads at the finale and a sharp kick upwards meant the stage had a sting in its tail after an already hard day.
Knowing what would await them later in the day, the break went on the attack as soon as the stage started, a group of seven went ahead, using the flatter terrain to their advantage and build up a lead of two minutes, before topping out at 3:30. As the race came past the 50km to go point, BORA-hansgrohe helped up the pace and the gap soon dropped below two minutes again. In spite of the hard climbs, the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, who was tied for the GC lead, was still with the bunch while others dropped off the back, while Rafał Majka was riding well with the other GC contenders, in his element in the Polish mountains. With the peloton driving the pace, the break was caught with 37km to go, but such an early catch meant it was highly likely another break would go.
On the descent of the day’s final climb, the attacks came, but in spite of their best efforts, no-one was able to gain much more than twenty seconds on a fast peloton. With a sixty-strong peloton there was no chance of a solo win, and it was all back together with just a few kilometres remaining, and only the sharp final climb to the finish to go. The length and steepness of the climb saw the all-rounders and sprinters dropped at the very start of the 17% ascent, but as even the climbers started to drop off, Peter stayed in contention the entire length before putting in a final kick, closely followed by Rafał. Crossing the line in second position with Rafał in third, Peter re-took the race’s yellow jersey and maintained his hold on the white points jersey ahead of the Tour de Pologne’s longest day tomorrow.
Back in the race leader’s yellow jersey, Peter knew there was still a lot of racing to be done, but was happy with his performance so far. “Stage 3 of the Tour de Pologne was a tough one! I managed to stay in a good position in the first four climbs and I gave my all in the steep and hard final climb. Thanks to the squad and Rafał for their excellent work today – it feels good to be back in yellow. As I said yesterday, my form is very good, but the race is long and we will take it day by day.”
Rafał was pleased to have Peter with him at the finish and what this meant for the GC standings. “We are very happy with our performance and result today. It was a tough final climb but together with Peter we were in the final group, and were well positioned. Unfortunately, I accelerated a bit late in order to take the win. It was the first time I was riding here and I didn’t know the climb very well. Still, thanks to his second place, Peter has recovered the yellow jersey and I’m sitting third in the GC, just 12 seconds behind him. We now have two cards to play at the Tour de Pologne and we will take all the opportunities in the following stages.”
Tomorrow, the day starts hilly before an undulating run to the finish. There’s just one fourth category climb at the 30km mark, but after this it’s more than 200km to the finish. On a long day like this, it’s the ability to last the full distance that will decide the day’s winner, and the flat, street circuit finish, will encourage the sprinters to take their chance for glory.