Paris-Tours Preview

The French autumn classic with a new twist this year, a series of gravel roads in between the vineyards. Also don’t miss this Saturday’s Giro dell’Emilia, more of which below too.

The Route: 214.5km between Chartres and Tours, another deceptively named race as it starts some 90km outside of Paris. Many French races retain the Parisian tag but were forced to move out of the capital following an edict than banned racing in the capital.

The race has had the perfect balance of climbs in the finish, just enough to allow attacks to succeed in the finish, often by a handful of seconds such that la classique des sprinteurs has more often rewarded attackers. Now comes the novelty of gravel and we’ll see if this is tinkering for the sake of fashion or an exciting new development. Either way these are not just any old gravel paths shoehorned in, this is terroir with the race zig-zagging through the Touraine wine producers and the dirt tracks follow the slope of the vineyards. The road book at wines reads like a wine list.

The sectors come late in the race with the first gravel one with 49.5km to go and the final one at Rochecorbon at 12km to go which is followed by short climb.

The Finish: the Avenue de Grammont, once a 2.4km long finishing straight until they built a tram line which forced the race to abbreviate the route. It’s still a long flat road.

The Contenders: Philippe Gilbert (Quick Step) has won here before and he’s won just the other day on his comeback from a cracked knee in the Tour de France. The revised course and the grim weather should work well for him with the likes of Niki Terpsta, Yves Lampaert and Florian Sénéchal for support as well as breakaway hero from Innsbruck Kasper Asgreen plus Fabio Jacobsen for a sprint although the conditions make a bunch sprint look unlikely.

Ag2r La Mondiale bring their classics specialists with Oliver Naesen collecting two podiums in his last three races.

Team Sunweb’s Søren Kragh Andersen is due a big win and has the power to feature in this race, he helped Sunweb finish second in the Innsbruck TTT.

Lotto-Soudal’s Tiesj Benoot loves the Strade Bianche. Today isn’t as selective, far from it, but he can try and get in the breakaway.

Cofidis’s Christophe Laporte lacks a good sprint but he’s more versatile, a year ago he won the Tour de Vendée solo and is a former mountain biker if that helps for the off road parts.

Groupama-FDJ are all in for Arnaud Démare, able to win a sprint and out of a group. The question is over his form though.

Philippe Gilbert, Oliver Naesen
Yves Lampaert, Søren Kragh Andersen, Tiesj Benoot
Arnaud Démare, Christophe Laporte, Guillaume Boivin
Groenewegen, EBH, Van Marcke, Janse van Rensburg,

Weather: wet and windy, a cold northerly wind means a tailwind early and then a crosswind for much of the final gravel sectors.

TV: it’s on Eurosport and could be on the same channel you watch the Tour de France. The finish is forecast for 4.45pm CEST.

Giro dell’Emilia : before Paris-Tours on Sunday don’t miss Saturday’s Giro dell’Emilia in Italy, a pre-Lombardia test and a chance to see the San Luca climb which will feature in the Giro d’Italia’s opening stage next year. Better still it’s a fine race in its own right with the scenic and selective climb, an underrated event with a spectacular finish. Look out for the coverage streamed by PMG Sport and on Eurosport.

41 thoughts on “Paris-Tours Preview”

  1. On a side note:
    Mikkel Bjerg, the newly crowned U23 TT World champion rode his yearly hour record attempt, riding 53,730km thus being the second fastest time set. He rode on a Danish track.
    He is still 19 years old. Wiggins’ attempt seems within his range I’d say.

  2. 214.5km between Chartres and Tours rather than Paris?
    Good to see EBH back among the contenders, it’d be great to see him do well.
    And for what it’s worth I read elsewhere that Bjerg’s Hour will not be UCI-ratified, as their officials were not present. Will stand as a Danish record, at least until he tries again I guess…

    • @osbk67
      That’s correct, the UCI were not present and the record only stands as a Danish record. Albeit, be it, quite some record 😉 Note, the attempt was hurriedly assembled by Specialized DK and the local club at the track, Odense Cyklebane – Thorvald Ellegaard Arena (you should look him up) is at sea level. No “thin air”, no Ketone liquids, no tampering with the barometric pressure, just a well prepared rider, bike and track; kind of “unplugged” pacing for an hour.
      Now Martin Toft Madsen has picked up the glove and if the stars align, he will try to reclaim the record next year. If he can raise the money perhaps with the UCI attending.
      What a time to be alive! Two Danes fighting it out for the hour record. -And in good spirits as well.
      And others doing quite well at some French race too! What a ride by SKA!

  3. I would put Démare on at least one chainring, he was active in Binche-Chimay-Binche and that group would have stayed away without Lotto NL doing a stunning job for Van Poppel. Almost have to have him and Groenwegen on 2 chainrings above Søren KA, whose one-day credentials are pretty iffy?

    Roompot, Wanty, LTS and Sunweb all with strong rosters but QS a level above. Cees Bol and Julius van den Berg two stagiaires to keep an eye on.

  4. If Terpstra is in this race, he would surely deserve a chainring, wouldn’t he? The winner of Tour of Flanders and PR should be able to excel here as well. Or is he off his peak form at the moment?

    • Certainly Quick Step Floors, or a version thereof, have won the past three editions of this race and it’s tough to bet against them with their line-up for Sunday.
      This is the archetypal race that they win, though they’re without a top sprinter?
      Does that tell us about their possible tactics?

  5. Surprised somewhat to see so few comments just a week after the Worlds, and also to see how relatively thin the start list looks – probably a correlation there.
    Quickstep could certainly bully a field like this, especially with many teams having only four or five starters shown. I guess that makes Gilbert the favourite for me.
    Sylvain Chavanel not for the win but to show off the front at some stage, probably earlier, this must be close to his last major race on French soil before retirement.
    Tony Martin to also show, perhaps later in the race, in an attempt to salvage something from an average season by his high standards.
    And lastly Jelle Wallays as an upwardly mobile Belgian with an outside chance.
    Tiesj Benoot not listed as a starter or shown as a withdrawal, by the way.

    • The comments thing I think is interesting also… it’s basically because people don’t really following ParisTours, it doesn’t get the pulses racing…

      I think the gravel stuff is very interesting though.
      I’m obsessed with trying to bring more people to cycling and finding a way to create cohesion/sustainability/interest throughout the racing calendar.

      For a long time I’ve thought what was really needed was a more understandable calendar (Paris Tour suffers because of where it is in the Calendar) that at least tried to take cycling to new markets in a way that wasn’t token.

      Now I wonder whether this move to fashionable gravel is actually the start of something that could be more important. If there was a way of finding space for all the disciplines better within this main calendar? Not that it will ever have downhill or bmx. But I’m not one who cares about the ‘road’ tag so I would love if the road calendar could find ways to morph into a calendar that included elements of other disciplines as a way of showcasing the sport – as everyone knows the TDF is the pinnacle of the sport, so maybe road cycling should do more draw on all aspects of the sport?

    • C’mon Gorilla, HTFU!!! Ooops, he just had a flat. Did the bike sponsors set up their pros with “gravel” bikes for this? Or perhaps they’ll prove you don’t really need a special bike to ride over some flat roads with dirt and rocks on a dry sunny day?

  6. Well, I really enjoyed that. Despite comments about ruining the history of the race, I think the gravel tracks were a godd addition and the organisers got it just right (placement in the race relative to the climbs, number and length). Made for a more exciting race and the footage was fantastic. I am aurprised some teams were not using more robust tyres to reduce the risk of punctures though.

    • I enjoyed it too. As a spectator, I thought it was improved.
      It seems a little strange to me that Strade Bianchi and Tro Bro Leon are acceptable (and highly rated), but Paris-Tours bringing in the dirt tracks isn’t.

      • And I wanted to say as well, that the winner and the leading riders were a strong line up of those expected to do well, reinforcing the sense of it being a parcours within “normal” bounds.

      • I thought it was great scenery-wise and I always like races that ask more of the racer than what his/her watts/kg ratio is, but am puzzled at why Terpstra seemed to have no response when Andersen jumped away. It seemed like they just let him go. They put in a half-assed chase once it was too late, but I’ll be interested to read Terpstra’s post-race comments as to how it happened.
        Not sure what you mean when you write “highly-rated/acceptable” about those events vs this one, can you explain?

        • Sure. I tried to compare the negative reactions from some teams to the Paris – Tours parcours this year with the popularity of Strade Bianche and Tro Bro Leon among fans (highly rated), and that the teams don’t complain about the Parcours of those two races (acceptable).

          • Well, you know that Tro and Strade always were like that, and Paris-Tours not? If you change a traditional race like this one to a very different character, not everyone is happy with that. Especially the sprinter types who ended in bunch sprints for decades.
            Having said that, I liked this edition very much, but I understand the ones who didn’t.

          • Thanks. Other than the whine from The Gorilla I hadn’t read any other complaints. I can understand some who looked at this race being perfect for them (like The Gorilla) being upset that different skills were going to be tested in this new edition but I think there are plenty of other races for the velocisti so not a big loss IMHO.

          • Larry, did you miss that Lefevere tweeted mid-race that Quickstep would never do Paris-Tours again after this as the new parcours had “nothing to do with road cycling”?

          • Larry and Twitter. I can’t see it to be honest. Not unless you could get some Italian hand crafted version of Twitter, ideally made out of steel.

          • Interesting comments about “road cycling”. We have RonDe (who doesn’t just wish he was the king of cycling like me, but seems to think he actually IS) The Gorilla and Lefevere all whining about how riding over dirt ROADS is somehow not “road cycling.” I guess none of these folks have memories of when all the roads were either unpaved or paved with stones? Was it road cycling back then?
            As I usually say, if you want two-wheeled racing with the newest-latest electronic gizmos and technology contested over perfectly manicured surfaces – they have MOTOGP for that.
            I prefer bicycle racing to be more simple, while demanding far more from the competitors than how many watts they produce vs how much they weigh.
            Plenty of folks on this forum go on and on about how events must change to attract a new generation of spectators, but as soon as courses are modified to require other skills than what I outlined above the whining starts.
            “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”
            Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa , The Leopard

          • I can remember Greipel doing good races at Paris-Roubaix, finishing even 7th the last time in 2017. So he should be familiar with not pure paved roads, and I never heard him complaining about that. Same goes for Team Quick-Step, I can see their riders in such races all the time, not unsuccessful. So I don’t get why these two in particular are complaining.

          • “I prefer bicycle racing to be more simple” – LarryT

            Indeed. You have always struck me as simple, dear Larry. Now you say that going back to riding rocky tracks is progress. But you aren’t so progressive when it comes to gizmos and gadgets and knowing a precise read out of your power output or being able to communicate by radio with your team car or team mates.

            Perhaps we should start calling you Doc Brown since your approach seems to be “back to the future”.

          • Isn’t here a way to tell RonDe to stop his regular personal attacks on Larry T. or does the site owner approve such behaviour, cause he agrees with RonDe? I saw other peoples comments get deleted if they criticize this self-proclaimed King of cycling and comments, Ronny. If this goes on, I have to quit this site from my bookmarks, and I know a bunch of people who agree with me .

        • Like Cd says Terpstra had been annoyed with the AG2R rider from the start; he didn’t even fake working with SKA and him. That’s why he let him go… just as long as the French guy didn’t win. You could see he was keeping SKA close, keeping the pressure on but surely when it was 5k to go he knew he couldn’t win anymore. Weird tactics but also understandable (and it’s the end of the season, maybe Terpstra has a bit of a temper and bad mood).

    • I didn’t like it. I’ve enjoyed the recent little tinkering story put a couple of small hills near the finish to provide a launch pad, making it like a lesser late season Milan-Sanremo, but I’m with Lefevre on this one. It changed the character of the race too much. If they want to have a race through the gravel roads of the vineyards fine, but have it as a different race.

      • I really enjoyed it and I normally find Paris-Tours a bit dull, but I can see where you’re coming from re: changing the character of the race etc. A gravel race at WT level to complement Strade Bianchi would be good.

        My reading was that ASO decided Tro-Bro Leon was growing in popularity, and a cool race, so they engineered a race they already owned which was going stale (Paris-Tours) to become Tro-Bro Leon v2.

        • The thing is you could say that (it being dull) about any bike race. If they poured water over and then froze the descent of the Poggio Milan-Sanremo would be miles more interesting. If they covered the descent of the Kemmelberg in nails then Gent-Wevelgem would be more open. But there is a line between making a race more interesting and making it a farce/lottery. Larry says he doesn’t want all races to be just down to watts per kilo equations. Likewise I don’t want bike races to be determined by the pure luck of who gets a puncture or not. Or, even worse, to be determined by who is sponsored by the tyre manufacturer able to do the most R&D on tyres that combine puncture proofing on gravel and low rolling resistance on asphalt. We have Strade Bianche and everyone likes it. That doesn’t mean every other race has to try and copy it. Paris-Tours as a flat blast with a tail wind wasn’t a great spectacle before the last 500 metres. But the little hills they put in before the finish had provided enough of a launch pad for it to be a close run thing between late break and bunch sprint. And that is the spectacle I want to see. A few hardmen who have chanced their arm with a break in the finale desperately trying to hold off the pack in the last couple of K, not quite knowing who will prevail. That is road cycling to me, not watching people on road bikes tip toeing round sharp gravel corners at walking pace or the strongest riders forlornly pulling to the side of the road with their hand in the air.

          • I think there’s a place for a gravel race but, like you say, Paris-Tours probably isn’t it, especially if the teams/riders don’t embrace it. I’d rather the UCI just bumped up Tro-Bro Leon to WT level. Races only have that special vibe if the riders/teams/fans all buy into it in equal measure.

          • I am curious: is there at the moment really a tyre manufacture who has come up with a tyre that best or way better than the other manufacturers’ tyres “combines puncture proofing on gravel and low rolling resistance on asphalt”? Either by being “able to do the most R&D”, by having a genius for an engineer or by sheer luck of, say, discovering an additive to the rubber compound?

            (BTW doesn’t cycling legend have it that teams invariably use the best possible tire for the parcours – and if it is not manufactured by their tire sponsor, they simply black out the original brand names and fake it?)

            Or were there indeed teams that some teams failed to understand the significance of the (much touted) gravel sections failed to choose more robust tyres to reduce the risk of punctures either because they thought that the tires they did choose were robust enough or because they thought that the winner will be someone from a selection of lucky riders running the best rolling tires?

            Or were some teams just smarter and found the best combination of tyres and pressure?

            And, last but not least, do we really know that some teams had significantly less or more punctures than others? In other words, are there sheer numbers available – or is it just one rider tweeting and boasting (with factual basis or not) that his team did the right thing (and others didn’t) and one team boss complaining louder than the others?

  7. Thomas de Gendt’s proposal of a gravel bike series gets my vote. Not sure about the current fad for making as many races as possible more gravely. Not saying it isn’t interesting but it isn’t road cycling.

  8. Thank you so much, great preview and nice to watch.
    Great race?

    I’m quite surprised on Lefevere’s comments… especially as his team win a lot of these races.

    Very much in favour of any ideas that help to give these races an identity.
    It can’t be a coincidence the lack of comments on races like this because despite their history, most people don’t care.

    Their placement in the year, their lack of anything that really defines them, plus lack of prestige compared to the bigger one days just means they’re completely forgettable for the average viewer. Which is a shame. You have to be a pretty hardcore cycling fan to watch the ParisTours.

    These vineyard tracks are exactly what the ParisTours needed.

  9. Inner Ring, you’re a long-standing proponent of Paris – Tours.
    What did you make of the gravel sectors, a passing fad or a worthy addition?

    • I was going to chime in but since you ask I think Adrien Petit has it about right, the course could work if they hired a roller to go over the course and compact the gravel, in some places it was floating around and some of the stones were so big that riders were puncturing on their recon ride.

      Gravel is fashionable but this course uses “terroir” of the Loire vineyards which always helps give a race a sense of place.

      • The problem with gravel – whether you are a race organiser/course designe or just planning a weekend ride for you and your mates – is that it can be smooth and compact when you inspect it and a veritable garden of sharp rocks or nothing but washing board and pot holes or inches deep of soft or loose fine or coarse gravel when you actually ride it – all depending on unforeseeable changes in weather or traffic or maintenance.

        I for one welcomed the change but I have to admit that this time the conditions in a sense resembled that notorious stage when someone had spread tacks on the asphalt. In other words, it was too much of a sheer lottery who punctured and who didn’t.

      • Thanks for the reply. There’s an interesting contrast of opinions about the gravel.
        I must admit that the term “terroir” sounds more like a particularly bloody phase of the French Revolution than an autumnal cycle race but perhaps an occasional purge of terroir, rather than an annual showing, may be a compromise?

  10. Paris Tours is Paris Tours! A last chance saloon for sprinters and that is why it’s a great race! The hills on the run in have given opportunists their chance. If you want a gravel race set up a gravel race! Leave Paris Tours alone.

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