Usually a thrilling race thanks to the inclusion of some sharp climbs in the final moment which tips the balance from the sprinters to the attackers this Sunday’s race has scrapped these climbs to make the race more sprinter-friendly ahead of next weekend’s world championships in Qatar. This might make the race less of a thrill but it’s the chance for the sprinters to win back this race and viewers get a rare sprint royale, a rarity outside of the Tour de France.
The Route: it doesn’t start in Paris. In fact it hasn’t for decades and in recent years the start seems to jump around and this time it’s Dreux. Why? Why not but Dreux is linked to hosting a stage of the 2018 Tour de France and one way to fast-track a municipal bid for a stage of le Tour is to host another ASO race. The interchangeable starts don’t alter the geography, a run across flat terrain dominated by large fields of French agribusiness, all those croissants and baguettes have to start somewhere but there are a few glorious chateaux along the way. For the riders this means flat roads that are exposed, there’s often no so much as a hedgerow to stop the wind.
They haven’t scrapped all the hills. With 25.5km to go there’s the Côte de Crochu, a climb that has hairpins and an 8% gradient. It’s no Alpe d’Huez of course but an obvious pinch point where a rider or two makes a premature start to their cyclo-cross season by riding off into the woodland.
The Finish: once upon a time the Avenue de Grammont in Tours was the world’s longest finishing straight until an act of municipal vandalism put a tramway along its route meaning they can no longer hold a big sprint. Nevertheless the finishing straight is 800m long, plenty of time for a big sprint. Without the usual climbs the race has a long straight run in before the 4km to point. Note the sharp turn with 800m to go.
The Contenders: this is one of the few trophies still to elude Mark Cavendish. Having collected two elusive prizes this summer in the yellow jersey and an Olympic medal, Paris-Tours is, along with Gent-Wevelgem, pretty much all that’s left to round out a sprinter’/ palmarès. Can he win here? Of course but his form isn’t obvious although the upcoming Worlds are a stated goal. Illness meant he didn’t ride Paris-Bourges this week but he’s due to ride here and has famously bluffed before a big goal. But if he’s back to 100% health he – and others rivals – will want to stay that way. While the race may be a target for Cavendish the World Championships are a bigger prize and there’s a strong possibility that he and other sprinters are here to get a 250km race in their legs rather than to lock horns at 65km/h.
André Greipel would like this win too and the long, flat finish is perfect for him and his well-drilled lead out train. Once again will he take the customary risk or play it safe?
Talking of risk-taking… Nacer Bouhanni is aiming for the Worlds too but a win here is more than a step to Doha, it’s a home win and valuable for his Cofidis team too. He comes with his sprint train who have delivered him to many wins. Often known for controversy and wild sprinting he can also beat the best fair and square on his day, as we saw in Paris-Nice for example where he left Greipel and Kristoff trailing.
Arnaud Démare won Binche-Chimay-Chimay earlier this week with a big display of power. Like Bouhani he and his team will want this and be willing to fight for position rather than backing off for safety’s sake.
Sam Bennett has struggled this year with just one win in the now modest Critérium International until recently when he took a stage of the Giro della Toscana by beating Mark Cavendish in a sprint, a reminder of what he can do when things go his way and now he’s just won Paris-Bourges so it’s all coming together now. A win here would be his biggest yet.
The route change lowers Matteo Trentin’s chances of repeating last year’a win. He can sprint well but prefers a harder course and there are faster finishes here. Including Etixx-Quickstep team mate Fernando Gaviria. Will Tom Boonen sprint?
The list of sprinters goes on. Astana have Andrea Guardini, a fast rider but he rarely wins against this level of opposition although that’s because he doesn’t get many chances. Giant-Alpecin’s Max Walscheid is a new-pro who has had his start ruined by that early season crash. Elia Viviani is Team Sky’s house sprinter. Caleb Ewan comes with the full Orica-Bikeexhange train. Dan McLay and Minsk Missile Yaihueni Hutarovich sprint for Fortuneo-Vital Concept with the Briton as the leader. Bryan Coquard is still waiting for that big win but has looked out of sorts in recent races.
So far so many sprinters. Their numerical superiority raises the chance of a sprint because if one or two teams have a rider up the road, if a couple have sprinters feeling rough then there are still several other teams waiting to set up their sprinter. Still, the likes of Greg Van Avermaet, Sep Vanmarcke, Sylvain Chavanel and Tom Bonnen may want to test the legs late in the race and force the others to chase.
|Mark Cavendish, André Greipel|
|Sam Bennett, Arnaud Démare, Fernando Gaviria, Elia Viviani|
|Bryan Coquard, Caleb Ewan|
|McLay, Vanmarke, Guardini, Boonen|
TV: live from 3.30pm Euro time and the finish is forecast for 4.50 CET. Tune in to see if the race is contained by the sprinters.
Weather: cool and some dying light between the clouds. A light tailwind of 10-15kmh is forecast.