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100th Paris-Tours - ProT

France, October 8, 2006

Century Edition of Sprinters' Classic

By Gregor Brown

Zabel wins last year's race
Photo ©: AFP
Click for larger image

Paris-Tours is synonymous with the autumn and the end of the season. This Sunday, October 8, the classic will be celebrating its hundredth edition, and will welcome 25 teams. The ProTour classified event will consist of all 20 ProTour teams, plus five additional Professional Continental Teams.

The Paris-Tours peloton, all 200 riders, will depart from the town of St-Arnoult-en-Yvelines (close to Paris), heading south for 254.5 kilometres, before arriving on the famed l'Avenue de Grammont in Tours. The race, although "flat", has an unpredictable character. First, because of its geographical path, which means the peloton can be pushed along at full speed by the wind or face a long day in a head-wind. Second, the time-slot on the calendar the weather can be unpredictable. The road-side fans might be in their light cotton shirts or dressed in leather jackets under umbrellas.

The French race is well known as a sprinters' classic but being a sprinter is certainly no assurance of victory. Take Richard Virenque as an example: The waif like climber caught them all napping back in 2001 and nailed what was one of his finest victories ever. Most often the l'Avenue de Grammont, dead-straight for nearly 3000m, does offer up sprinting madness, like last year when Erik Zabel took his third win, and last for T-Mobile.

Zabel will be back in the century edition with new squadra Milram but a rider like Italian Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital), second in 2005, is the big favourite. Australian Robbie McEwen won't take to the start line, but compatriot Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC) will. The rider from Adelaide, third in Paris-Bourges and second in Züri Metzgete, is on the verge of another big win. Uros Murn, finishing fifth in the World's, right behind McEwen, could also pull off the win with the help of Phonak teammate Fabrizio Guidi.

This is a French race, but France has only had two wins in the last fifty years and perhaps this year we could see success from the home riders. Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom), loved by fans around the world, especially the French ladies, scored a big win in Paris-Bourges only three days before the race and is on hot form.

Belgian Tom Boonen (Quick-Step), who showed his legs well only two weeks prior in the world championships, is very capable of toping the action on the Avenue de Grammont should a sprint occur. But if not, look to his teammate, Italian Filippo Pozzato. Boonen's compatriots, Stijn Devolder (Discovery Channel) and Philippe Gilbert (Française Des Jeux), almost spoiled the sprint party last year with a late breakaway. Either one of these two would be a serious danger-man if part of a small group into Tours. And perhaps a small group would be the best chance for il Milanese, Luca Paolini. The Liquigas man is running hot after the world championships, and might want to dedicate a big win to his buddy, Paolo Bettini.

The Paris-Tours is a race for sprinters and one of the top riders in that category will be calling it a day on Sunday. Jaan Kirsipuu (Crédit Agricole), after 14 years as a pro cyclist, would love to exit on a high. After two podium places, in 1998 and 1999, it is not out of the question that the 37 year-old Estonian could win the 100th edition of the sprinters' classic as a nice send-off to a long career. Failing that, he might be able to help his teammate Thor Hushovd win the race, depending on the form of the Norwegian fast man.

The twenty ProTour teams will be joined by the following five non-ProTour teams: Agritubel (Fra), Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen (Bel), Landbouwkrediet-Colnago (Bel), Skil-Shimano (Ned) and Unibet.com (Bel).

Live coverage

Cyclingnews will be covering theParis-Tours live, with coverage starting at 15:00 CEST (Europe)/9:00 EDT (USA East)/6:00 PDT (USA West)/23:00 AEST (Australia East).