Paris-Tours Preview

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 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

13 thoughts on “Paris-Tours Preview”

  1. The picture for this article on the home page links to your 2012 preview, I hadn’t actually noticed at first, even after reading the whole thing, it was only looking at the startlist that made me wonder how Flecha was riding for Sky again.

  2. Did you have to mention how many days until the next race!
    It’s like C3PO telling Han Solo the odds…don’t wanna hear it!
    Thanks for great preview, though! Was enjoyable seeing our local
    guy Greg winning 2 yrs ago, then Marcato getting his revenge last yr!

  3. I like this race: usually a great duel between between breakaways and sprinters. It should be WorldTour instead of some of the rubbish served up at the highest level. A sad sign of the times that the likes of Cavendish, Kittel, Greipel etc don’t want to hang around and extend their season to fight for this – perhaps shift it to June or August? As MSR adds yet more climbs, this could firmly position itself as the classic that the genuine sprinters aim for, assuming they are in the right condition to cope with the lumps in the finale.

  4. Definitely this race should be World Tour instead of the insipid Tour of Beijing. Nothing against a race in China, but the kind of race their offering shouldn’t be placed in the end of the season. Reading the comments from Rui Costa in facebook (the portuguese ones are way more complete than the english ones), it’s easy to see that no one really wants to be there. The comments are basically “easy race just some action in the end”, you can make the most hard route that you can imagine, but in this time of the season I don’t think the cyclists will bother to really tackle the way you think they should. So it’s better to have a good one day race to close the season than some relaxed and boring stage race that no one gives a dam about it. Just to close the comment I would suggest that they change the Tour of Beijing to a one day race using maybe the same course as the Olympics in 2004, that would be a good one day race. What do you guys think about that?


    • If they use the Olympic course from 2004 they will have a tough time staging it in Beijing, unless you meant that an ingenious solution to Greek financial troubles would be to start exporting 200km chunks of highway to China to stage bike races on.

      • If we’re going to pick out trivial errors and then be condescending then you would only need to export a 13.2km chunk of road, given that was the distance of the race course in Athens.

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