Cycling in Poland

Tour de Pologne

The Tour of Poland starts today. It’s the 68th edition although you probably can’t cite many notable winners. For years the race was behind the Iron Curtain but, in a neat metaphor, today the race is run by a private promoter Czesław Lang and has become a minor success. It’s a World Tour race and for some team sponsors an interesting target market as it’s one of the few parts of Europe to escape recession and downturn.

  • Bordered by Germany, Europe’s largest democracy, to the west and Bielorussia, Europe’s last remaining dictatorship to the east, the best area for cycling is perhaps the Tatra mountains that mark the southern borders with Slovakia and the Czech republic.
  • Cycling in Poland is often a part-time sport. The winters are cold and make for tough riding. During the last winter Liquigas’s Polish pro Sylwester Szmyd was stopped by the police after venturing onto a motorway in a bid to escape snow and ice during a training ride. He was trying to get home on the only open road but the police didn’t accept the excuse and fined him.
  • Scour the results of amateur racing in France and Italy and often you’ll find a lot of hard to pronounce Polish names. You might not know of too many Polish pros… but maybe you soon will given their prolific results at elite level?
  • In the Tour de France Liquigas had three Poles in Maciej Paterski, Maciej Bodnar and Sylwester Szmyd which is interesting partly because Liquigas doesn’t have any business in Poland. There are others with the top teams. However they all fit the “Polish worker” or robotnik stereotype of diligent hard-working riders, in service of others.
1988 Seoul
Silver in the 1988 Seoul Olympics team time trial
  • On the road the country has no identifiable champion capable of winning races, which hasn’t always been the case. Lech Piasecki, Joachim Halupczok and Zenon Jaskuła were top riders from the 1980s and 1990s.
  • The best Polish rider is Maja Włoszczowska, the reigning women’s world mountain bike champ.
  • Just as words  like “zipper” or “hoover” are used as nouns, in Poland the word “rower” (“w” is pronounced “v”) means bicycle, the name coming from the 19th century British company and its Rover Safety Bicycle.
  • The hard winters and modest prosperity in rural areas combine to ensure visiting teams and their mechanics are busy during the Tour of Poland. Carbon rims meet unrepaired stretches of winter damaged roads and the result is inevitable.
  • Poland has three pro cycling teams, the main one is CCC-Polsat with its distinctive, but not unique, orange kit.
  • Cycling is popular on Eurosport, with a dedicated commentary team.

11 thoughts on “Cycling in Poland”

  1. Great post again, INRNG. Thank you!
    At least one hard working Polish “robotnik” will have the privilege of team mates working for him in his national tour. Saxobank-Sungard’s Jaroslaw Marycz.

  2. Some thoughts of polish Inner Ring fan:

    1) Notable TdP winners: Allesandro Ballan (2009), Jens Voigt (2008) after excellent attack on the penultimate stage! (moreover Jensie was 3x on the podium), Johan van Summeren (2007)

    2) Liqugas has business partner in Poland: GasPol (eg. founder of special prizes on recent years)

    3) To Maja Wloszczowska you can easily add Aleksandra Dawidowicz (u-23 women World and Europe Champion)

  3. Surprisingly, Zenon Jaskula is the only Pole to have taken a stage at Le Tour.
    I know they definitely had an unbelievable amateur program before the west was opened to them.
    Of course Eddy B will be glad to tell those stories.

  4. Worth mentioning the 1974 Paris-Nice, declared ‘Open’ to allow Poland’s twice and reigning world amateur champion Ryszard Szurkowski to joust with Eddie Merckx. I think they got into a breakaway togetherat one point, but then Szurkowski fell badly had had to abandon. An interesting precedent for the “open” Tour de France in 1983…

  5. Excellent article. One correction: Tatra mountains do not form the whole Czech/Slovak border with Poland. This border is rather long and includes several distinctive mountain ranges. Western Tatras and High Tatras are the two highest mountain ranges on Slovak/Polish border.

  6. Michał Kwiatkowski is a great talent I hope to see more of in the future. He’s a great time-trialist, unsure about his climbing but in the right environment he should improve and become a contender in stage races.

  7. Thanks for the comments. I didn’t realise Matt Rendell’s anecdote and will look that up, I seem to remember similar ways organisers tried to get Russian riders into races during the 1980s.

    Anonymous: Maybe Kwiatkowski could bloom in the right environment?

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