Seemingly unbeatable in one-day races this season, Italian riders will be favourites to outshine their rivals in the 253-km race and extend a French 40-year losing run in this event.
The 1995 winner Nicolas Minali is in top form with four sprint finish victories in last month's Tour of Spain to his credit.
Michele Bartoli, winner this season of the Tour of Flandres and more recently of the Grand Prix de Fourmies and Tour of Emilia, looks another serious contender as he chases World Cup champion and leader Belgian Johan Museeuw.
Museeuw has 162 points with surprise package Andrea Ferrigato second on 112 and Bartoli third on 108.
Winner of the last two World Cup races in Leeds and Zurich, Ferrigato is aiming at an unprecedented treble in Tours. A recent success in the Tour of Romagna confirmed his good form.
But Andrea Tafi, who has just won Paris-Brussels, the Tour of Lazio and the Coppa Placci, is also in the shape of his life and he will want to avenge his defeat in Paris-Roubaix, when he was forced to let team leader Museeuw win.
The last Frenchman to win in Tours was Albert Bouvet in 1956. This year home hopes rest on Laurent Jalabert -- if he has recovered from his efforts in the Vuelta where he helped Swiss Alex Zuelle to victory -- and sprinter Frederic Moncassin.
But Museeuw, who won the Paris-Tours in 1993, knows a second victory here will virtually secure him the World Cup title with only two races left.
1. Nicola Minali (Italy, Gewiss) 5.38.55 2. Tom Steels (Belgium) 3. Giovanni Lombardi (Italy) 4. Tristan Hoffman (Netherlands) 5. Laurent Jalabert (France) 6. Michele Bartoli (Italy) 7. Andrea Ferrigato (Italy) 8. Pascal Chanteur (France) 9. Giuseppe Citterio (Italy) 10. Lars Michaelsen (Denmark) 11. Kaspars Ozers (Latvia 12. Hendrik Redant (Belgium) 13. Robbie McEwen (Australia) 14. Andrei Chmil (Russia) 15. Laurent Roux (France) 16. Max Sciandri (Britain) 17. Fabio Roscioli (Italy) 18. Viacheslav Djavanian (Russia) 19. Mariano Piccoli (Italy) 20. Johan Museeuw (Belgium) 21. Planckaert (Bel) 22. Pierobon (Ita) 23. Werner (Ger) 24. Kappes (Ger) 25. Hamburger (Dan) 26. Brochard (Fra) 27. Gianetti (Sch) 28. Villa (Ita) 29. Pizkis (Let) 30. Van Petegem (Bel) all s.t. 31. Konychev (Rus) 32. Rodriguez (Spa) 33. Eeckhout (Bel) 34. Ekimov (Rus) 35. Nardello (Ita) 36. Heulot (Fra) 37. Julich (Usa) 38. Peron (Ita) 39. Chiappucci (Ita) 40. Merckx (Bel) 41. S. Rebellin (Ita) 42. Dufaux (Sch) 43. Artunghi (Ita) 44. Casagrande (Ita) 45. Baldato (Ita) 45. Backstedt (Swe) 47. Den Bakker (Ned) 48. Herve (Fra) 49. Faustini (Ita) 50. Riis (Den) 51. Tafi (Ita) all s.t. 52. Zanini (Ita) + 0.10 53. Virenque (Fra) 54. Saitov (Rus) 55. Skibby (Den) 56. Ballerini (Ita) 57. Milesi (Ita) + 0.27 58. Anti (Fra) 59. Kozlitine (Kaz) 60. Vierhouten (Ned) 61. Rue (Fra) 62. Cattai (Ita) 63. Anguita (Spa) 64. Moller (Dan) + 1.12 65. Vasseur (Fra) 66. Zulle (Sch) 67. Peeters (Bel) 68. Diaz-Justo (Spa) 69. Colage (Ita) 70. Fondriest (Ita) 71. Bruyneel (Bel) 72. Arazzi (Ita) 73. Crepaldi (Ita) 74. Yates (Gbr) 75. Bolts (Ger) 76. Zanette (Ita) 77. Pavanello (Ita) 78. Pistore (Ita) 79. Capelle (Fra) 80. Lecchi (Ita) all s.t. .. 83. Stuart O'Grady (Aus) + 2:45 .. 113. Henk Vogels (Aus) +11:22 .. 117. Neil Stephens (Aus) +11:22 .. 120. Frank Hoj (Dan) +11:22 185 starters, 148 finishers.
The Italian, who took four stages in the recent Tour of Spain, beat Belgian Tom Steels into second place with his compatriot Giovanni Lombardi coming in third.
But Frenchman Richard Virenque, third in this year's Tour de France, and Russian Asiate Saitov shared the lead until the final 400 metres and very nearly stole the show in a race traditionally won by the most in-form sprinter.
With 135 kms of the 249-km race still to go, the French climbing specialist and the fiance of double Olympic athletics champion Svetlana Masterkova broke away, and were eight minutes 20 seconds ahead of the main peloton at one point.
They were hauled in at the very last by the speed merchants, with World Cup points leaders Johan Museeuw to the fore.
In the final metres, Minali, wearing the number one jersey, prevailed to become the first rider since Dutchman Jo de Roo in 1963 to retain his Paris-Tours title.
Museeuw made a bid -- too soon as it turned out -- for the line at the start of the last straight 2.6 kms from the finish.
But the Belgian's lead in the World Cup with two races to go is in no real danger.
As Italian Fabio Baldato veered off the wrong side of the roadside fencing, Dane Lars Michaelsen attacked with Steels and Lombardi in his slipstream only for Minali to burst through from behind for his eighth win of the season.
Minali said: ``It was difficult because there were a lot of other riders capable of taking it but my team did a great job for me.''
Virenque said: ``It was my first Paris-Tours. I was only here to get in some kilometres in view of the world championships.''
Minali, who edged out Ukrainian Andrei Tchmil last year, this time beat out Belgium's Tom Steels and Giovanni Lombardi of Italy into the minor placings.
But Belgium's Johan Museeuw remains on top of the overall World Cup standings.
The break of France's Richard Virenque and Russia's Asiate Saitov came to an end 450m from the line and it was left to Minali, who won four stages in the Tour of Spain, to confirm his sprinting form.
Virenque made his break at the 110km mark of this 253km race and Saitov, perhaps more well known for his marriage to double Olympic champion Zvetlana Masterkova, kept him company.
But they could not make their break count and Minali, who went on for victory, said afterwards: "I made the Paris-Tours my end-of-season goal because I have not had a lot of luck this year."
Minali was referring to his February operation for back problems which kept him out of cycling between the spring and summer's Tour of Italy.
1. Johan Museeuw (Belgium) 162 points 2. Andrea Ferrigato (Italy) 126 3. Michele Bartoli (Italy) 124 4. Stefano Zanini (Italy) 88 5. Lance Armstrong (U.S.) 81 6. Fabio Baldato (Italy) 77 7. Alexandre Gonchenkov (Russia) 67 8. Gabriele Colombo (Italy) 58 9. Andrei Chmil (Russia) 56 10. Fabiano Fontanelli (Italy) 54 11. Minali Richard (Sch Bolts (Ger) 50 14. Bortolami (Ita) 47 15. Sciandri (Gbr) 45 16. Tafi (Ita) 37 17. Steels (Bel) Bettin (Ita) Cattai (Ita) 35 20. L. Jalabert (Fra) 34 21. Ekimov (Rus) Virenque (Fra) Fincato (Ita) D. Rebellin (Ita) 32 25. Sorensen (Den) 31 26. Fr. Casagrande (Ita) 28 27. Gianetti (Sch) Coppolillo (Ita) Podenzana (Ita) Lombardi (Ita) Hoffman (Ned) 25
1. Mapei-GB (Ita) 80 2. Motorola (Usa) 61 3. MG-Technogym (Ita) 58 4. Roslotto-ZG Mobili (Rus) 52 5. Festina (Fra) 45 6. Telekom (Ger) 32 7. Team Polti (Ita) 23 8. Rabobank (Ned) 20 9. Carrera-Longoni Sport (Ita) 19 10. TVM (Ned) 18