Paris-Tours Preview

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.

Matteo Trentin

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.

Nacer Bouhanni
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.

47 thoughts on “Paris-Tours Preview”

  1. Thanks for the preview, what do people think about the status of this race? Should it be WT or is it just fine as it is? Are there advantages to it being ”only” 1HC ?

    • Too flat and windy for Movistar, presumably?
      One could say that their enforced presence would do nothing to affect the race or alternatively you could muse why they choose to sit out such a race yet then are unable to haul Nairo Quintana around the TdF to victory?

    • The World Tour label has a meaning, an implied status but it’s not everything, is it. Some races outside still offer prestige. But see how other races out of the World Tour have faded, like Paris-Brussels. This one still seems to attract top riders and the winners lis in recent yearst is impressive although not necessarily every single year.

      • Which non-WT races do inrng readers like best? Now that Strade Bianche is WT I think my favourite is probably Grand Prix de Wallonie – a spectacular last few KM.

      • To be fair, the prestige of Paris-Brussels had faded long before the WT came into being. I would even say that its fade pre-dated the launch of the UCI World Cup back in 1989. I began following the sport closely in 1987 and don’t ever recall Paris-Brussels being considered as a top-level classic in that time.

    • It is without doubt a bigger race than Omloop, Dwars Door, Strade Bianche and E3 in my opinion. I’d put it on a par with Gent-Wevlegem and Amstel as the biggest none monuments, a shade ahead of Flèche and San Sebastián. I really like Strade Bianche, but I think they need to bung an extra 50-60km on it somewhere. Even if it is just added to the approach to the white roads. To be a proper genuine classic, which Paris-Tours is, you need to be up over 250km.

      • I can see the logic of your argument re: course length, although personally speaking I just prefer the parcours of all the other races you list, in comparison to Paris-Tours. Having said that Amstel was a little dull this year and feels like one too many uphill finishes alongside the superior LBL and Fleche (which I really like although it’s got a lot of stick in recent years for being repetitive). I’ve got a soft spot for Omloop as it always feels like the first big race of the classics season.

          • Great shout – a very good race and I like Terpstra so this year’s was cool. Ditto Dwars door het Hageland which I’d never seen until this season but really enjoyed it.

          • I like pretty much all of the early season to spring races, gritty and generally ran in crappy weather, which one can relate to in small part during winter day to day riding here in N Europe. The best part of the whole season! But then that could be another subject for debate in its own right, roll on Feb!

          • You would have never seen Dwars Door Hageland because it was a dead race for while. Nick Nuyens and some likeminded folk revived it this year styled to the Strade Bianche, just as Schaal Sels did last year. It seems people enjoy watching riders tackle dirt and mud roads. I wonder when Cyclocross will include some legit stretches of tarmac into their parcours and then next we know all racing is the same…

  2. Have to admit, while I like sprint stages in the context of GTs, I do find one day sprint events a bit dull. Nine times out of 10 you can just fast forward to the final 5km without really missing anything, WT or not.

    • Your “fast forward” raises an interesting point I hadn’t thought much about. Watching these things live includes an element of drama building from the start. How far out will the peloton let the breakaway get? Who will lead the chase? How will this all unfold?
      Watching ’em later when you can “fast forward” reduces the entire experience to pretty much just an entertainment product to be consumed like fast food. Any drama (as in real, satisfying flavor) gets distilled out of the experience. Could this be part of the reason there is so much perception of pro cycling as merely an entertainment product, subject to the whims of a fickle audience with a short attention span?

      • i was convinced after reading years of comments here that I was the only one who felt this way Larry. it’s why I really like Milan-San Remo, there’s a lot going on from km 0 if you have keen eye and know who the players are.

        • Following the development and unfolding of a race is one of the main reasons to watch bike racing if you understand the many and varied subtle intricacies.

          Read the last chapter of a thriller, or start at the beginning and enjoy the whole experience.

          It is one reason amongst several others , why I strongly object to radio controlled racing.

      • It’s true that you just aren’t engaged with a race as much if you zip through it like that. Thanks to time pressures (young kids!) I don’t always get to watch hour long highlights packages of the smaller races and it definitely has a negative impact. Obviously the Monuments/GTs I make the time but sometimes the kids win and I’m forced to watch Daddy Pig ride up that Paterberg-style climb home (one for the Peppa Pig fans there).

      • Hell, I even love the feedzones. The skill they use to sling a musette while riding in a bunch and pick through it (little can of coke being the prime pick). When they chuck it and you see a little boy grabbing a not quite empty musette at the roadside. The Christmas morning expression on his face – priceless!

        Even the neutralized zone before the start, the insane skill these guys have to ride like slow motion salmon jostling all over the road (and pavement!) with nervous energy. Heck I’ll happily watch the mechanics tuning or washing a bike when there isn’t a pro in sight.

        People forget that the domestiques are also part of cycling’s elite. Watching them go about their work in the early parts of a race doing the critical work that determines in what condition their race leader arrives in the finale.

        I love all of it!

      • It’s not about my attention span. I just don’t have time to watch a whole 6 hour classic. Certainly not during the daytime when the kids are awake. And if I would suddenly find myself with that amount of time available I would go out for a ride, not sit on the couch to watch others ride. So I either watch the last 20 mins of a race, or (preferably) record it and watch it when the rest of the family is in bed. How much of the race I actually watch is then mostly determined by how much sleep I am willing to sacrifice.

    • A sprint finish is by no means guaranteed.
      Reading other previews of this race, there’s one or two who have gone for a breakaway winner.
      Before even trying to choose one of the many protagonists as a potential winner, the most interesting aspect for me is the dynamic of the breakaway.
      Some of the teams have edged their bets and have got riders for either scenario, think Etixx particularly, and this could see the pure sprinter teams get sat on and played.
      If the breakaway doesn’t succeed, who has had to do the most work to get it back?
      So it’s a very interesting prospect in store.

      And also good to see the ASO and UCI cooperating in the course set-up and television timings of the TTT over in Doha. Can catch both!

  3. I like the hilly alternative finish of recent but seen as this is a one off and it historically is a sprinters race I can go along with the tinkering, especially as a big sprint off is a rarity these days. it would be good to see Cav win but I also fancy Bouhanni for this one. He’ll either win or wipe out and miss the worlds!

  4. Didn’t Trentin get the ‘gold ribbon’ or whatever it’s called for the fastest ever classic last year? Surely without the hills that’ll be going to whoever wins this year in anything other than a block headwind?

  5. Since Germany is backing Griepel as their 1st option in Doha, I can see him not taking too many risks in the finale in Tour. He doesn’t have to prove anything to the federation and he can aim at peaking in 2 weeks.

    As an aside, I do miss that long finale on Ave de Grammont. It really gave the race its identity (at least for me).

  6. Sammmy Bennett or Bouhanni for me in this. Was thinking Greips, Tommeke et al won’t want to show to much for next weekend. Plus 1 for Av de Grammont. Couldn’t believe how long that final drive for the line was

  7. Paris – Tours – the race (together with Paris-Roubaix) I love the most. Since the n-th struggle between ASO and uci in 2008 it fell out of the first class, but it still fights on. From all the different names the race had, I love “Tours-Versailles” the most, but I also think Grand Prix d’Automne (Grand Prix of Autumn) is nice.

    The very 1.edition of Paris-Tours in 1896 was for amateurs, but after that it was for pros and the winners list is a dream for every pro cycling lover. From Lucien Petit-Breton, over both Pélissiers, to the amazing Heiri Suter, one of the six(yes, 6!) racing Suter-brothers, who got their love for the bicycle from their father, who once build himself his very own velo. Heiri Suter won Paris-Tours twice in a career that went from 1918 till 1941 (yes, you read right). Suter btw also was able to win Paris-Roubaix and the Ronde van Vlaanderen in the same year (1923) and is the rider with the most wins (6) in the Züri Metzgete. His first Metzgete win was in 1919, his last 10 years later in 1929. Classy. There are too many stories and beautiful wins and winners in Paris-Tours to name them all, they include Jan Raas, Sean Kelly, Adrie van der Poel,Briek Schotte, Erik Zabel, Johan Museeuw, Philippe Gilbert and many, many more. And yes, Eddy Merckx never could win this race.

    Hopefully Paris-Tours will keep it’s autumnal magic and power over imagination and the politics of cycling won’t be the end for this beautiful race. It is not only a victim of the powerfights, but also of the modern tv times. Right now almost everything big in cycling is concentrated on hills and “action” must visibly happen and best in the last hour, half hour of racing. Losers of this are flat races and other disciplines, like the time trials and the pure sprints. If you listen carefully, you can hear Kittel and Co complain for some time now, that they get less and lesser opportunities.

    The current fixation on globalisation and tv damages many races and also the racing itself. Once upon a time races also were a thing that happened live and locally, for the people. Today we almost got an inflation of races on tv (I remember voices and tweets in spring, early summer, complaining about too many races on tv. This wouldn’t matter so much, if tv would mean moneymaking for the races, but mostly it doesn’t. In some cases races pay to be on tv, which is absurd and bad for cycling. If a product is wanted, people pay for it and if not, well… With being on tv although it isn’t lucrative, the competition between races gets falsified, as does the whole picture/idea people have about pro cycling – apparently even some inside of it).

    This inflation also means that tv needs easy hooks to sell those races. Big names are the easiest hooks and the really big names these days are often the GT-riders – and they don’t race Paris-Tours. Of course, having a unique course, like gravel and such things, are also hooks, as is being a monument. And in spring, when we all are hungry for races, all is a bit easier for a race. An autumn race, with no additional tricks, a race, which you have to really watch, feel, imagine, is a hard sell for some in these times.

    But I think, that is exactly why I love Paris-Tours so much. It has it’s own rhythm. It leaves you the space, time and freedom to really dive into the riders minds, faces, you see the wind, the fight for positions, the small gestures, that betray a silent face, the endless slog on endless roads. And then this long finish, that cruelly laughs at you, just when you think, now the finish line must be really close, you see, that it is a lifetime away (even if it isn’t that long now anymore). And when the riders cross the finish line, it always is satisfying. It is an honest, real race. A few weeks ago I heard a rider say, how Paris-Tours captures his imagination (think it was Bouhanni, but am not certain) and I know exactly what he means. Yes, I love this race.

      • PS I just read your post again today which is an inrng forum first for me (Signore Ring’s blogs I reread too to understand properly, he is a bit more clever than us normal people).

        Please don’t leave it as a one hit wonder, post again!

    • Yes, very well written and I shall continue this lament at the modern world’s treatment of the race – look at Google maps for Dreux and there, prominently displayed, in Dreux Centre Ville is ‘Restaurant McDonalds’.
      Perhaps Inrng could sample their cuisine and let us have his recommendations…? 😉

  8. What a way to win – he looks a phenomenal talent. And all on the hoods! (He did that in another race earlier in the season – came from quite a distance, held the sprint and again on the hoods – can’t remember what race.)

    • Very impressive, wonder if he can replicate that next week? I remember the sprint you mentioned too, when he beat Caleb Ewan, more of an uphill drag wasn’t it. Just looked on Wikipedia and it was Tirreno–Adriatico.

      Viviani didn’t look very happy crossing the finish line. Owain Doull looked very strong but just led him out far too early. Cofidis opened up really early too. Demare looked very good too. Outside bet for the Worlds?

    • I can’t decide whether it reminded me more of Freire at the 99 worlds or Gilbert when he won Paris-Tours with a long sprint and out dragged Boonen. He does look a phenomenal natural talent, I think we are set for some good battles in the future between him and Sagan. Throw in Demare and Matthews and it’s not a bad crop of classics style sprinters at the moment.

      • Back in the late 80’es early 90’es with the long Avenue de Grammont finish it was often won i a similar way – late surge from the tired sprinters and their teams. Neijdam, Sørensen, Tchmill comes to mind – didnt see Andersons win but i seem to remember that a breakaway on finishing straightjust before the sprint was his speciality too.

        Paris-Tours is a true classic due to its History and the many ways it has been won.

    • It was smart riding too – impressive for his age – he knew he was unlikely to win in a bunch sprint.
      M-SR seems almost a given; we’ll have to wait and see how he manages the cobbles.

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