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2010 Tour de Poland to visit Auschwitz memorial

Even though the 67th Tour of Poland will be held during the first week of August, organizers want to make sure that both the international cycling community and the world remember January 27th as the international Memorial Day. The day marks the 65th anniversary of the Red Army’s liberation of Auschwitz, one of the most horrific Nazi concentration camps.

A German border guard applauds as the 2003 Tour of Poland peloton passes from Poland into Germany. AFP file photo.

The 67th Tour of Poland this August will visit several sites near the Auschwitz concentration camp to mark the 65th anniversary of the Red Army’s liberation of the notorious camp. Organizers announced the special stage routes on Wednesday, January 27, the anniversary of the liberation.

The 2010 edition of the stage race, August 1-7, will feature the start of a stage from Oswiecim, “The City of Peace,” which is close to where Nazi troops decided to build the Auschwitz concentration camp.

“We think it’s important to do our part to commemorate the Shoah,” said Czeslaw Lang, general director of the Tour de Pologne. “The spirit is that of remembering in order to better learn from the mistakes of our past, so that tragedies like these on this large a scale can never happen again.”

Stage 6 is 240km from Oswiecim to Bukowina Tatrzanska. Organizers hope that this stage, with a hilltop finish, will be the hardest stage and will determine the eventual GC winner.

And perhaps most dramatically, the sixth stage will begin as a neutral procession from Oswiecim to Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II Birkenau. Once there, the peloton will stop under the infamous sign that reads “Arbeit macht frei” – Work makes man free – for a minute of silence. During the silence, a rider from each country represented in the peloton will be called to the front row, as a demonstration of universal peace, equality, brotherhood, and trans-nationality.

“These important values are stronger than differences in language, ideology or religion, values that are at the heart sport and cycling, which we can and must contribute to spreading throughout the world,” Lang said.

Oswiecim is building The Mound of Remembrance, which will be a 35-meter high cone of stones from around the world. The monument will be between the two former concentration camps. It will also be the site of the International Centre,  headquarters for peace initiatives and multicultural activities throughout the world.

Last year at the Tour of Poland, Alessandro Ballan of Lampre fought Columbia-HTC’s young gun, Edvald Boasson Hagen for the yellow jersey through out the race. Ballan won by 11 seconds, while Boasson Hagen gathered two stage wins. Andre Greipel, the recent winner of the Tour Down Under, won the final stage in Poland last year.

It is estimated that fully one million of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust were murdered there, mostly in its notorious gas chambers, as well as tens of thousands including Poles, Roma and Soviet POWs.

On 27 January 1945, the camp was liberated by Soviet troops and the 65th anniversary was marked at the site Thursday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Poland’s leaders. You can read the original BBC report on the liberation of Auschwitz on the BBC Web site.