Paris-Tours preview

Paris–Tours was first run for amateurs in 1896, making it one of the oldest cycling races in the world. It was organised by the magazine Paris-Vélo, which described that edition as “a crazy, unheard of, unhoped for success”. It was five years before the race was run again and a further five before it became an annual event for professionals which is now run under the auspices of Tour de France organiser Amaury Sport Organisation.

Paris–Tours starts south-west of Paris and runs south-west towards Tours, crossing the Loire at Amboise, then heads over several small climbs before the finish.

What kind of race is it?

It’s a single-day classic on a fairly flat parcours through the Chevreuse and Loire valleys. Consequently, it is known as the Sprinters’ Classic because it often ends in a bunch sprint on the broad, long Avenue de Grammont.

The most recent winners of the event are:

2007: Alessandro Petacchi (Milram)

2008: Philippe Gilbert (FDJ)

2009: Philippe Gilbert (Silence-Lotto)

2010: Oscar Freire (Rabobank)

2011: Greg Van Avermaet (BMC)

What happened last year?

Last year’s race was unusually won from a breakaway. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) recorded the most prestigious victory of his career when he took off with 14 others with around 60km to go and subsequently beat Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) in the sprint for the line.

2011 podium (l to r) Marcato, Van Avermaet, Klostergaard            (image courtesy of official race website)

An initial break, which formed almost from the start, built a lead of over ten minutes before the Rabobank team of defending champion Oscar Freire and newly crowned world champion Mark Cavendish‘s HTC-Highroad combined to close down the gap. The boys from BMC also lent a helping hand but the increased pace merely forced the pack to splinter leaving all the favourites in the front chasing bunch.

By the time it was gruppo compatto with the chasing groups, the gap to the leaders was down to a handful of minutes. Some 6km later 15 riders – including Van Avermaet, Arnaud Gerard and Mickael Delage (both FDJ), friend of VeloVoices Geoffroy Lequatre (RadioShack) and Leonardo Duque (Cofidis) – counter-attacked and soon caught the race leaders.

The large front group soon settled down and worked to maintain its advantage of just over a minute. The pact was broken when young Gerard went for broke with around 20km to go. He was pursued by Van Avermaet and Marcato, who caught and dropped him just before the Cote de Beau Soleil. It was only then that Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) and Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) tried their luck , but it was too little, too late. The chickens had flown the coop.

It was to be a two rooster shoot-out between Van Avermaet and Marcato, who had a sufficiently large enough lead going under the red kite. Van Avermaet  – by far the better sprinter of the two – attacked with 300m to go and sailed over the line ahead of Marcato. Kasper Klostergaard (Saxo Bank-Sungard) rounded out the podium.

1. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) 5:21:43

2. Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:02

3. Kasper Klostergaard-Larsen (Saxo Bank-Sungard) +0:15

4. Ian Stannard (Sky) same time

5. Laszlo Bodrogi (Team Type 1) s/t

6. Mickael Delage (FDJ) +0:22

7. Geoffroy Lequatre (RadioShack) s/t

8. Stuart O’Grady (Leopard-Trek) s/t

9. Roy Curvers (Skil-Shimano) s/t

10: Arnaud Gerard (FDJ) +0:26

This year’s race

Paris–Tours has had many route changes although the distance has remained around 250 km. The start was moved out of Paris in the early days, first to Versailles then to St Arnold-en-Yvelines and now to Chateuaneuf-en-Thymerais. Over the years, the organisers have sought to make it more ‘interesting’ with route changes and the addition of various small ascents – such as the three cotes near the finish –  but it’s made little difference to the race’s outcome.

The course was reversed and the route constantly changed between 1974 and 1987 and it was sometimes called the Grand Prix d’Automne and finally, in 1988, it reverted to its original route. The biggest obstacle is often the wind. In 1988, the winner averaged just 34kph, while when Oscar Freire won in 2010 he recorded a tail-wind assisted 47.7kph for which he received the Yellow Riband for the fastest speed recorded in a Classic.

Who to watch

All eyes will be on the sprinters come Sunday, although results from the past 20 or so years suggest that the winner is just as likely to come from a breakaway or a strong rider taking a flyer, like last year. BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet will be back to defend his title and might have to be even more audacious if he’s to avoid contesting a bunch sprint with the likes of Vuelta multi-stage winner John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) and Rabobank’s Lars Boom hoping it all comes back together.

While Belgian riders have won this race more than any other nation, there are plenty of young riders such as Adrien Petit (Cofidis), Pello Bilbao (Euskaltel-Euskadi) or Garmin-Sharp’s Steele Von Hoff who are looking for their maiden victory. Equally, there are plenty of riders still seeking gainful employment for next season and picking up points in one of the season’s few remaining races would do their chances no harm at all. Frankly, it’s a crap shoot – anyone might win. [Splinters from sitting on the fence there? – Ed]

Paris-Tours takes place on Sunday 7th October. Live coverage and highlights will be shown by Eurosport in the UK. For other live coverage check

Link: Official website

Who’s moving where for 2013? #3

From the sublime to the ridiculous, sporting transfer gossip offers no end of opportunities for speculation and distraction. Suffice to say, cycling is no different. This weekly column will bring you up to speed with the latest, greatest (and downright absurd) cycling rumours for your own examination and contemplation.

Oscar Freire – coming out of retirement with Euskaltel?

Image courtesy of Danielle Haex

The headline of this story in Spanish newspaper El País was Reducción al absurdo, a translation of the Latin phrase reductio ad absurdum or ‘reduction to absurdity’. That’s certainly one way to describe this story, with Euskaltel reportedly having hatched plans to sign newly retired three-time World Champion Oscar Freire as a rider and coach with the team.  Source (in Spanish)

However, I use the term ‘rider’ lightly, as part of the deal was understood to mean Freire spent more time at races off the bike than on it. Euskaltel’s move to sign the Spaniard seems to be as much about picking up 100 WorldTour points than the undoubted experience and expertise that the 36-year-old would provide. In the same article El País outlined the importance of such points to guarantee the sponsorship and survival of the small Basque outfit, and described the UCI’s points system as conducive to ‘grotesque situations’.

Will it happen? 2/5. While I don’t doubt that Euskaltel have made an approach to sign Freire – believed to have been after the World Championships – I do doubt whether Freire would seriously consider such an offer. I doubt he will risk his reputation for the sake of some WorldTour points, and it’s not a deal I expect to come off, despite the quick-thinking of the Euskaltel chiefs.

Michal Kwiatkowski – Omega Pharma-Quick Step to Sky in Cavendish deal?

image courtesy of DrabikPany/Flickr

In last week’s gossip column we reported that in Mark Cavendish’s expected move to Omega Pharma-Quick Step an unnamed “talented young rider” – believed to be Briton’s Andy Fenn – would be thrown into the deal as compensation. Source (in Dutch)

But, according to the Gazet Van Antwerpen, the deal wouldn’t involve Fenn, but Pole Michal Kwiatkowski would be Dave Brailsford’s bargaining chip. The 22-year-old started as a professional cyclist in 2009, with his first big move being a jump from Caja Rural to RadioShack in 2011, before moving to Patrick Lefevre’s Quick Step ahead of this season. He immediately performed well, winning the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen before a runner-up spot and podium at the Tour de Pologne and Eneco Tour respectively.

Will it happen? 3/5. With the Cavendish deal appearing to take so long to complete – with question marks still hanging over whether Bernhard Eisel would make the switch too –  the move for Kwiatkowski makes the complexity of the transfer even greater. He’s an undoubtedly talented rider, and it’s not surprising Quick Step are reluctant to let him go. But if that paves the way for the arrival of the world’s top sprinter, I can certainly see it happening.

Amets Txurruka and Ivan Velasco – Euskaltel to Caja Rural?

Amets Txurruka (mage courtesy of adambowie/Flickr)

Amets Txurruka, with his oddly placed ‘x’ and ever-aggressive style is part of the furniture at Euskaltel, having been at the team for five years. However, he has been unceremoniously dumped by the Basque outfit after failing to record a single race win, and he made sure he slammed the door on his way out, launching a scathing attack on the team and its new recruitment policy of signing riders outside the Basque region. “I will now see the team as just any other. It won’t be special any more,” he said. Source (in French)

Now it seems like Txurruka will move to another Spanish team – Caja Rural – as part of a package deal which sees him arrive with fellow Basque chum Ivan Velasco, a 32-year old who also hasn’t won a pro race at Euskaltel. Caja Rural are a Pro Continental outfit who would benefit from the experience and points of the veteran duo, as they look to build on their stage win at this year’s Vuelta a España.

Will it happen? 4/5. With both riders looking for new teams (and with almost entirely blank CVs) it seems like a move to Caja Rural – where they would both presumably be protected riders – is a good bet. It’s certainly something which I can see happening.

Who will be released from Saxo Bank?

Could the Haedo brothers be given the boot? (image courtesy of Roberto Bettini)

To end today’s column I haven’t got so much of a rumour as a simple fact. With Bjarne Riis executing a full-scale renovation of his Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank team this winter, as many as eight incumbent Saxo riders who have not yet been re-signed could be given the boot.

Juan Jose and Lucas Sebastian Haedo, Volodymir Gustov, Jaroslaw Marycz, Luke Roberts, Takashi Miyazawa and Ran Margaliot are all currently at risk. It appears that the latter duo are the most likely departures, although the likes of veteran climber Gustov, unconvincing all-rounder Marycz and the eternally under-performing (or over-hyped) Haedos can’t be counted out.

Riis has some big decisions to make, and if rumours linking yet more riders with Saxo like Ivan Basso have some substance, there will be even more unemployed cyclists scurrying around looking for rides next season.