Two seconds in 2019, in 2017 and in 2015, five seconds in 2012, six seconds in 2011 and eight seconds in 2014 and 2010: ever since the race joined the WorldTour in 2007, the general classification of the Tour de Pologne has been decided by some nail-bitingly tight margins. But for an ultra-close GC finale, the 2023 edition could well beat them all.
Just a few hundredths of a second currently separate race leader Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious) from runner-up João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) after the stage 6 time trial in Katowice which was supposed to provide a definitive format to the Tour de Pologne overall. Instead, with just one stage left to go, the difference between the event’s top two racers could hardly be closer.
Time bonuses on the normally ceremonial, mostly flat 166.6 km stage into Krakow on Friday could yet play a crucial part in the overall battle.
Three, two and one seconds are on offer on the day’s one intermediate sprint at Wilamowice at km 67.5, and after the last of three five-kilometre laps around the edges of Krakow’s Blonie Park, bonification of ten, six and four seconds will go to the first three across the finish line on the broad Marszałka Ferdynanda Focha avenue.
With third-placed Michal Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers) at a comparatively distant 14 seconds, the battle for victory should theoretically come down to a Mohorič-Almeida duel. But as Mohorič told reporters after his defence of the overall lead on stage 6’s time trial, he has a strong belief in his chances of keeping the yellow all the way to the finish.
“I’m confident that together with my teammates I can defend this lead,” Mohorič said. “If they go for bonus seconds, so will I, I think I’m faster in a bonus sprint, so we’ll see.”
“If they decide to go for it, we will up for the challenge, we will fight all the way to the finish.”
Asked if he honestly expected to see himself in the lead after playing down his chances of defending it in the time trial all week, Mohorič said he had, but hadn’t wanted to say anything in case “because then you seem arrogant.”
“I knew I had the legs of my life, and I was second in the Junior Worlds Time Trial so I’m not too shabby at it. But obviously, in the Tour and everything else, I haven’t done too much training on my time trial bike. But when you have good legs, you have good legs.”
Mohoričv reminded reporters that he has a history of this kind of last-minute, cliffhanger GC scenario. Last year when lying second on the last day in the CRO Race, he snaffled the overall from Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) at the last opportunity possible by grabbing some bonus seconds in the final bunch sprint into Zagreb.
That win against the Dane was by one second, but here the gap could be even narrower. That kind of track record just goes to show that, as he put it, “I’m up for the challenge tomorrow.”
In terms of what gave him greater satisfaction, holding onto the jersey in a time trial or conquering the uphill finish of stage 2 of the Tour de Pologne in Karpacz – also against Almeida – Mohorič said “to win a stage is always nice. I was proud, too, particularly because Karpacz was the hardest stage of the race.”
“Today was obvious that João was going to be a little bit faster because he spends a lot more time on the time trial bike as it’s more important for him as a GC contender.”
“Me, I’m just a GC opportunist, I take a chance when I have but I don’t only focus on that, I also do the Classics. So a time trial is not necessarily my top priority throughout the season.”
Second on the stage by 13 seconds on Mattia Cattaneo (Soudal-QuickStep) and second overall by the bare minimum to Mohorič, Almeida remained adamant that he would not throw in the towel before the final finish line on Friday.
“It’s a new situation to me, but there’s a first time for everything,” he said. “I think it’ll be a sprint finish, but we’ll see how it goes.”
“There’s also a time bonus in the middle of the stage but it’s unlikely we’ll get the chance for that if there are breakaways. It’s almost mission impossible but I don’t think I can beat the sprinters. If the chance comes, though, I’ll take it.”
There is also the possibility that UAE will throw caution to the wind and try and do something crazy, one journalist suggest, and Mohorič, for one hardly seemed surprised at the prospect.
“Not at all. They will try, they need to try, they have nothing to lose,” he commented. “I won the Tour of Croatia snapping away the leader’s jersey at the last stage in a bunch sprint.”
“But João also has other goals, he’s going to the Vuelta so I’m not sure if he’s willing to risk a crash in a sprint.”
“However, if he’s up for the challenge I’m more than happy to take it on. I will make sure tomorrow that I don’t lose him from my sight – either in the stage or in the final.”