Paris-Tours preview

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Paris Tours

Luckily there’s more to the sport than out of control sports officials. This Sunday’s Paris – Tours is one of the autumn classics and often known under the label of “the sprinters classic”. The race doesn’t actually start in Paris, but outside the French capital in a small town called Voves. Nevertheless the distance of 230km is exactly the same if you started in central Paris and rode to the city of Tours. This is because the route snakes, especially with a kink in the final to borrow some hillier terrain, the potential launch pad for attacks.

History
Today the race enjoys the status of a classic, the term used to describe a prestigious international race that has stood the test of time. It’s fashionable for organisers of new races to name their event a “classic” for example the one-off Olympic test race was branded the London Surrey Cycle Classic. But Paris-Tour is authentic, with the first edition held in 1896. Nevertheless the history has been uncertain, with cancellations for war and for a while the route was modified as a loop in the region. The list of winners includes many sprinters but it remains one of the few classics that Eddy Merckx never won.

Paris-Tours has long seen the fastest average speed for a race and the Ruban Jaune (“yellow ribbon”) was awarded to Oscar Freire in 2010 for 47.7km/h. This award is given to the rider who holds the highest speed in a race over 200km long.

A further element that reinforced the sprinter-friendly format was the finish in Tours. It uses the Avenue de Grammont and in years past the race borrowed the full length of this avenue, meaning a finishing straight some 2.6km long. But recent works to build a tramway in Tours means the finish has been reduced, making a finishing straight of 800m.

Terrain and terroir
Loire valley
The Loire valley is one of France’s tourist hotspots. The Loire is France’s longest river but for tourists flock to the area around Tours, where the river meanders slowly past vineyards and fields of wheat. Many come to see the the 300 châteaux and enjoy the local wines. The region itself is rural and sleepy. It’s gentle cycling terrain and the more avid cyclist might find the terrain unchallenging but this is the attraction of the place, a peaceful part of the world and bike hire forms the basis for many a vacation. There are several local wines, with names like Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé, not to mention Vouvray just outside of Tours. It’s also the second biggest producer of sparkling wine in France. The local rider is FDJ’s Jérémy Roy, the ” most agressive” rider from this year’s Tour de France.

The race
Paris-Tours profile
Enough tourism, there’s a race on. Look at the profile and it’s quite flat and the average speed can be very high. Typically an early move will go clear and build up a very big lead before the group feels the bunch bearing down and the leaders accelerate and shrink the group. Breakaways have won in the past but an early move lasting is unlikely given the open and wide roads all the way, these suit the bunch. But note the Côtes near the finish.

Paris-Tours

The final 13km will be unlucky for some

These are not hard by themselves but just as the Cipressa and Poggio are tough after several hours of racing, so the Côte de Beausoleil and Côte de l’Epan are just about enough to tear the elastic a bit. But they are very short, we’re talking 600 metres but at 12%. These are steep ramps to tackle in the big ring and it’s no surprise that in recent years Philippe Gilbert has used these climbs to jump away. But they are not hard enough to ruin the race for the sprinters, organisation before and after the ramps can make all the difference. Indeed it is not just the gradients but the small roads and the way the twist that suits attacks, it is hard to marshal a chase on this tiny roads.

Favourites
Mark Cavendish is coming, his first outing in the rainbow jersey. He’s had plenty to do since winning in Denmark, from touring TV studios to partying, so there’s a chance the race isn’t for him. Write him off at your peril. HTC-Highroad team also have Degenkolb and Goss.

Going through the others it’s an open race. Oscar Freire is back and his contractual confusion should motivate him. Aussies Robbie McEwen, Baden Cooke and Chris Sutton are on form right now with recent wins and podium finishes. Riders like Romain Feillu or Daniele Bennati should be there too, plus previous winner Alessandro Petacchi is coming with a strong squad. For the breakaways, look for Thomas Voeckler and Philippe Gilbert and maybe Yohan Offredo and Grega Bole. We’ll see Thor Hushovd back in normal team kit too.

Weather
Currently the weather forecast doesn’t look good. A mild 10km/h headwind won’t cause problems but rain is forecast. The roads will be tricky near the finish.

When to watch
The open nature of the race, the balance of the sprint finish versus the tricky hills and twisting roads makes the final moments of the race often required viewing. The finish is expected between 4.30-5.00pm but the race time can vary a lot given the distance and wind, and the forecast suggests a slower race. Tune in for the last 30 minutes.

Other races
There’s also an U-23 race that’s 178km long and finishes about an hour ahead of the pro race. Previous winners include Hushovd, Tom Boonen, Samuel Dumoulin and Tony Gallopin.

Andy Powers October 8, 2011 at 2:07 pm

A great preview.

On the what constitutes a ‘classic’ comment, my view is that if the race includes the word ‘classic’ in it’s title then it patently is not one.

Larry T. October 8, 2011 at 4:50 pm

I’m looking forward to seeing (albeit on TV from here in Italy) the new world champion showing his new jersey on Paris-Tours and even more seeing (live from the Ghisallo) the Tour of Lombardy next week. For me, even with all the corruption, watching the best guys in the world race on bicycles is entertaining, especially the atmosphere at the actual events. In those respects it’s WAY better than pro wrestling!

Thijs October 8, 2011 at 7:05 pm

I like this race because you don’t always get the sprinters for the victory. But if they try to stay away it can be with 10 seconds over the peloton.

Bundle October 8, 2011 at 8:50 pm

“Tune in for the last 30 minutes”. This, being very generous (10 minutes should be enough), is in itself a sign of how uninteresting and insignificant (not to say plain boring) is a race where the winner will have not felt the mild headwind for more than 300 metres. I hope the teams that can’t win in a bunch finish (the majority) will manage to coordinate to avoid the sprint. Which is wishful thinking anyway, that’s why I won’t watch, and instead wonder why the always spectacular Giro dell’Emilia wasn’t broadcast today outside Italy.

Darren October 8, 2011 at 9:03 pm

After a season where the Grand Tours featured too little in the way of sprinter-friendly stages I am looking forward to tomorrow’s race! There was an interview earlier this year where Cav, Boonen, and a few others mentioned how sprint finishes are getting more ‘hairy’ due to the abundance of a new generation of podium-hungry sprinters chasing the white line along with the current generation of sprinters! You would think that with such an abundance of sprinters the G Tours would have more sprint stages on offer!!! I’m sure Super Mario Cippolini would agree!!!

Qwerty October 8, 2011 at 10:14 pm

There’s something about a race that takes 5/6 hours being decided by the actions on the last 60 seconds that I love. Next week is Lombardy, so different yet I like both.

Bundle October 8, 2011 at 11:56 pm

Even if I was Italian, which I’m not, I would never like to remember little-onions (Cipollini), or call him “super”. I think that, excellent as he was as a sprinter (he was Cav’s exact prequel), he was a bit of a disgrace for our sport, with his “I-am-great-and-I-know-it” arrogance, and the fact that he managed to convince a part of the audience (and of the riders) that a “pure sprinter” could be a star in his own right. Before him, people like Jean-Paul Van Poppel or Urs Freuler (equally domineering sprinters) were secondary actors in a world of all-rounders, climbers, TTists, and Classic winners. Then came the “treno” and the end of unpredictability on flat races: the yawning era.
Don’t get me wrong: sprinting ability is a great asset. But races that are a 100% controlled by sprinters’ teams are the negation of cycling as drama and epic. I love to see a sprinter win when he has been able to follow, in the first person, the attacks of the “baroudeurs”, like Maertens, Jan Raas, or Van Looy did. But of course, this is another level.

Jorgen October 9, 2011 at 2:45 pm

One memorable edition was 2002, where Jacky Duran and danish rider Jakob Piil got away in a two man breakaway. In the end the most cunning rider won and Piil took the victory

Bundle October 10, 2011 at 3:38 am

I’ll eat my words as usual: GREAT RACE!

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