Labelled “the sprinters’ classic”, this Sunday’s race might have a flat route but most of the winners since in recent years have come from breakaways, usually thanks to attacks launched late in the race.
Once a prestigious race, Paris-Tours has slipped a little in status but the addition of extra climbs in recent years has spiced up the finish to provide a thrill worth watching more so because it’s the last big race in Europe until the 2014 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. That’s 147 days away.
The Route: 235km. This race does not start in Paris but the small town of Authon-du-Perche, a full 150km drive from Paris and only 110km away from Tours if you go direct. The race has long started outside of Paris and the départ seems to float around a lot, presumably to whoever will bid for it. Towns looking to host a stage of the Tour de France can get bonus points from ASO by welcoming this race.
The route heads north-east to start in order to add more kilometres then after 40km it heads south almost all day, except for a hockey-stick shaped curve at the end when it crosses the river Loire and curls west before heading north into Tours. As the profile shows the route is flat and a dull procession past the large fields of French agribusiness interspersed with a few glorious chateaux. This means some exposed sections.
The profile doesn’t show it but are three climbs near the end of the race which, if not high, are highly strategic.
- The Côte de Crochu is 28.5km from the finish and is as close as the locals get to the Alps with its hairpins and 8% gradient although it’s taken at speed in the big ring.
- Next the Côte de Beau Soleil is 10km from the finish. This is another short climb but it is distinctive for the narrowness of the road. Suddenly a giant race is funnelled into small roads and it’s not uncommon to see riders riding into the woodland as they’re squeezed off t the road. But the peloton gets stretched out by the short climb and the elastic can snap, especially with the sharp turns at the top and then another narrow descent surrounded by stone walls.
- Finally the Côte de l’Épan is just 7km from the finish and a final wall at 8% to smash, it has often served as a trampoline for those trying to jump away.
The Finish: once upon a time the Avenue de Grammont in Tours was an endless road, the world’s longest finishing straight. But municipal meddling has put a tramway in town, frustratingly the transport needs of locals triumphing over this race. Nevertheless the finishing straight is 800m long, plenty of time for a big sprint. As the map above shows the race snakes its way into town and this makes it hard to control. With 5km to go things open up and note the sharp turn with 800m to go.
The Scenario: an early breakaway should go. Note this might not be any old move, instead several riders with no contracts for next year will be desperate by now and their future in the sport might depend on making the move. It’s hard to imagine this kind of pressure, no?
Several teams have an interest to set up a sprint so we should see any escapes controlled but with 30km to go things get open as the twisty route and sharp climbs encourage attacks. Think of riders like 2011 winner Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Henrich Haussler (IAM) or Warren Barguil (Argos-Shimano).
Fortune favours the brave. Ever since the race moved to the Avenue de Grammont in Tours in 1988, famous a sprint arrival, it turns out 15 finishes have seen breakaways versus 10 bunch sprints.
If not then it will be a bunch sprint and Arnaud Démare (FDJ) is the first pick with a team dedicated to him. Argos-Shimano have strong team with John Degenkolb and Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg for the sprint. Last year Degenkolb went rogue with an attack in the last 10km that almost saw him catch the lead trio but he’s just won Paris-Bourges. There’s also Bryan Coquard (Europcar) who is extremely quick and also weighs less than 60kg meaning those hills are no problem.
Then come a host of what we could call second tier sprinters: Adrien Petit (Cofidis), Andrew Fenn (OPQS), in-form Jens Debusschere (Lotto-Belisol), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) and Yannick Martinez (La Pomme) who has done well this year. I don’t mean “second tier” in a bad way, there are some very good riders here but they are not in regular winner category you would place Mark Cavendish, André Greipel, Marcel Kittel or Peter Sagan.
Startlist: pending publication
Weather: cool with a top temperature of just 12°C. A light breeze from the south-west makes for a headwind for most of the day and a slight tailwind at the end but at no more than 20km/h it’s not enough split things up.
TV: there’s a live feed from French TV from 2.00pm onwards and images will be available from cyclingfans.com and Eurosport and other channels around the world be showing it although some with delayed coverage. The finish is expected between 3.45 and 4.15pm Euro time.
History: the race goes back to 1896 and it was then run from Paris-Tours and the winner Eugène Prévost clocked an impressive 31.2km for the 250km route but it was not repeated again for a few years. By 1906 the race was staged by L’Auto, then the newspaper behind the Tour de France and to this day the race is run by ASO, the Tour company. Then the race has been on and off over the years and has seen several changes:
- In the first world war it was run in reverse with the finish in Paris
- It snowed in 1921. Francis Pélissier punctured but his hands were so cold he ripped the tyre of his rim with his teeth and rode on his wooden rim to win the race
- 1959 saw the addition of the first hill, the Mont des Allouettes
- In the 1970s it started in Tours and finished in Versailles outside Paris
- It later moved to route from Blois to Chaville
- Only in 1988 did the race revert to Tours and it used the long, straight Avenue de Grammont. But a new tram has changed things and if the race still finishes on the same avenue, the finishing straight is just 800 metres long
- Gustaf Daneels (1934, 1936, 1937), Paul Mayé (1941, 1942, 1945), Guido Reybroeck (1964, 1966, 1968) and Erik Zabel (1994, 2003, 2005) all share the record of three wins
- Last year’s edition saw Marco Marcato attack, take two riders with him and win the sprint in Tours