Italian Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) took victory in a sprint for the line from a breakaway trio, adding fuel to the fire that Paris-Tours isn’t really a sprinters’ classic. Dutch champion Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) launched his sprint too early and, as he sat up on the right-hand side of the road, spent and settling for third, Marcato sprinted out left followed by Laurens De Vreese (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) who clung to his wheel but couldn’t come past.
Afterwards Marcato said:
This is by far the greatest victory in my career. The team believed in me and I am very grateful for the work they did. It is amazing to start the winter with such a great final result.
The first break
A group of 11 riders escaped fairly early on in dribs and drabs: Sylvain Chavanel and Jerome Pineau (both Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Karsten Kroon and Michael Morkov (both Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Yannick Talabardon (Saur-Sojasun), Michael Hepburn (Orica-GreenEDGE), Gatis Smukulis (Katusha), Laszlo Bodrogi (Team Type 1-Sanofi), Arnaud Gerard (FDJ-BigMat), Koen De Kort (Argos-Shimano), and Wilco Kelderman (Rabobank). After 55km they had built a lead of almost five minutes but this was as good as it got.
Teams without riders in the break organised the chase and the gap started to drop. Morkov went off on his lonesome with 35km remaining while all his breakaway mates were eventually swept up by the peloton within the last 20km.
The decisive break
A septet – Marcato, Terpstra, Roy Curvers (Argos-Shimano), Julien Berard (AG2R-La Mondiale), De Vreese, Sebastien Turgot (Europcar) and Laurent Pichon (Bretagne-Schuller) – counter-attacked before the final three hills and bridged across to Morkov.
The team of defending champion Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) took up the chase and, with 15km to go, the gap was holding steady at around 14 seconds. As the route left the wide, straight roads and turned right onto a narrow country lane a rider went down on the grassy verge, taking others – though none of the contenders – with him, disrupting the chase and breaking the peloton into a number of groups. This played into the hands of the break and the gap went up to 20 seconds.
Adam Blythe (BMC) flew off the front of the peloton but was unable to bridge and was pulled back only for Argos-Shimano to give it a go on behalf of Vuelta multi-stage winner John Degenkolb.
As the leading group approached the penultimate of the small hills, Terpstra, Marcato and De Vreese dropped the rest. Meanwhile Degenkolb, frustrated with the efforts of the chasing pack, jumped clear and tried to chase them down on his own. Thighs pumping like pistons, he was breathing down their necks as they approached the final kilometre and started looking at one another. Looking over their shoulders, they caught sight of the German and wisely fled for the line to ensure the finish would be contested by three rather than four.
The results of so many races hang on a ‘what if?’ and this one was no different. What if that rider hadn’t gone down with just under 13km to go? Would the peloton have caught the break and would Degenkolb have won? What if Degenkolb hadn’t rattled Terpstra into launching his sprint too early? Would he have beaten Marcato to the line? What if there had been a head wind on the (in)famous Avenue de Grammont? Would Degenkolb have caught the lead trio before the line?
While Marcato deserves our congratulations for a well-deserved victory, let’s spare a thought for those riders who have found themselves surplus to team requirements and who are on the hunt for a contract for next year. The sands of time are trickling away as there’s not many more opportunities to impress. Let’s hope their efforts today have attracted the notice of a team manager.
1. Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) 4:50:34
2. Laurens De Vreese (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) same time
3. Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t
4. John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) +0:06
5. Laurent Pichon (Bretagne-Schuller) +0:12
6. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) s/t
7. Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t
8. Jonathan Hivert (Saur-Sojasun) +0:19
9. Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEDGE) s/t
10. Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t