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

What’s happening in October?

And now the end is near, and so we face the final curtain. The 2012 road cycling season comes to an end in October, with the last of the major one-day races and the final WorldTour event of the year all occurring before the end of the month.

Here’s our regular preview of what to look out for in the final knockings of the competitive year.

Paris-Tours (7th)

Paris-Tours hosts its 106th edition this year and is effectively to autumn what Milan-San Remo is to spring, although this race is considerably less hilly than its Italian counterpart. A largely flat 235.5km contains two small speed bumps in the final 10km which present some possibilities for a determined attack before a wide, flat finish on the Avenue de Grammont which is perfect for a bunch sprint.

The quick men will be keen to reassert their pre-eminence this year after their hopes were dashed by a successful 21-man breakaway last year. BMC’s Greg van Avermaet escaped with Marco Marcato with 10km to go and easily won the resultant two-up sprint. Expect many of the big sprinting names to be watching this one from a sun lounger somewhere, setting up opportunities for the likes of Lars Boom (Rabobank) and Vuelta hero John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) to shine. And if you fancy an outside bet, keep an eye on Lotto-Belisol’s Gianni Meersman and (if he is selected) Orica-GreenEDGE’s Aidis Kruopis.

Link: Official website

Tour of Beijing (9th-13th)

Beijing hosts the final WorldTour event of the year, a remodelled five-day race which takes in several of the city’s iconic sites. Tony Martin won the inaugural event last year, taking the lead in the opening individual time trial and safely defending it to the finish of a race which lacked drama, crowds and enough of a challenge to really shake up the GC. This year’s parcours certainly has more teeth, however, with tough climbs to negotiate in the middle of stage two, including a 954m mountain which is climbed again the following day en route to a short, punchy summit finish at the Great Wall. The final stage also features a tricky climb less than 30km from the finish followed by a steep descent which may also provide one final opportunity for a winning attack.

There is likely to be something of an end-of-term feel to the race, with most of the big stage racers already starting their off-seasons. However, for the teams propping up the WorldTour rankings – Vacansoleil-DCM (16th), AG2R La Mondiale (17th) and FDJ-MigMat (18th and last) – this represents one final chance to gather all-important points to bolster their chances of having their ProTeam status renewed for 2013.

Other key races this month include the Giro dell’Emilia (6th), the Tour de Vendée (14th) and the Chrono des Nations (21st). The last of these is the final race on this year’s UCI Europe Tour calendar – indeed it is the last official UCI-sanctioned race of 2012.

Link: Official website

This month’s birthdays

A selection of some of the more notable birthdays in the peloton this month:

10th: Pierre Rolland, Europcar (26 years old). The young French climber has finished in the top ten at the Tour de France in each of the past two years, supporting Thomas Voeckler’s spell in yellow in 2011 and riding to eighth overall in 2012. In this year’s edition he added a prestigious victory in the summit finish at La Toussuire to go with his career-defining win on Alpe d’Huez last year.

It’s been quite a 2012 for Tommeke (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

15th: Tom Boonen, Omega Pharma-Quick Step (32). Boonen was nigh on unstoppable in this year’s spring Classics, notching up wins in the E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem before claiming his third Ronde van Vlaanderen and fourth Paris-Roubaix. He won a stage at Paris-Nice, reclaimed the Belgian national championship and took overall victories at the Tour of Qatar and the World Ports Classic, before rounding off an incredible 2012 as a member of the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team which won the Road World Championships trade team time trial.

22nd: Mark Renshaw, Rabobank (30). It has been a disappointingly quiet season for the Aussie after stepping out of the shadow of Mark Cavendish to try his hand as a lead sprinter himself. A single win at the Tour of Turkey and a smattering of top three finishes elsewhere, including one third place at the Giro and an invisible stint at the Tour, was scant return for a season he would have approached with high hopes. Indeed 2012 has been far less successful than 2011, when he claimed a stage and the overall at the Tour of Qatar, the team trial at the Giro and a win at the Tour of Britain.

23rd: Chris Horner, RadioShack-Nissan (41). Now firmly into his fifth decade, the veteran American was runner-up to Vincenzo Nibali at Tirreno-Adriatico and was a respectable if anonymous 13th at the Tour. One suspects his best days are now behind him after two age-defying years where he won last year’s Tour of California and the Vuelta al Pais Vasco in 2010.

24th: Levi Leipheimer, Omega Pharma-Quick Step (39). Another American in the twilight of his career – and a former teammate at RadioShack – Leipheimer won the early-season Tour de San Luis and was a promising third at the Tour de Suisse before finishing a lowly 31st at the Tour de France. He has previously won stages at both the Tour and Vuelta, as well as general classification wins at the Tour de Suisse (2011), the Dauphiné and, three years in a row, the Tour of California (2007-9)

And don’t forget …

The racing may be drawing to a close, but we’ll still be busy here at VeloVoices Towers as we close down the season and start to take a look back at 2012. Look out for our final rider and team updates and an end-of-season round-table towards the end of the month. In addition we’ll bringing you the latest transfer gossip, book reviews and other assorted goodies. And then, of course, we’ll still be rounding up our Tweets of the Week every Tuesday, as well as our regular Friday Features providing in-depth analysis, interviews and stunning photography from all around the world of cycling.

And if that still isn’t enough for you, follow our Facebook page and Twitter for even more images, discussion and banter.

Whether serious or light-hearted, VeloVoices is the place to come for all the latest cycling news and views! Pro cycling for fans, by fans.