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 cyclingfans.com.

Link: Official website

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