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101st Paris-Tours - ProT

France, October 14, 2007

A sprinters' season finale

The push for l'Avenue de Grammont

By Gregor Brown

Frédéric Guesdon kept clear of the hungry sprinters on l'Avenue de Grammont
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Paris-Tours, the long race south out of France's capital to Loire Valley, marks a changing of seasons and the close of another year for many cyclists. The 101st edition of the Sprinters' Classic will cover 256 kilometres when it starts this Sunday, October 14, at 11:00.

The golden leaves and hunters at the side of the road will greet the 184 riders on their trek towards the famed Avenue de Grammont of Tours. The arrival on the 3000-metre long, dead-straight finish will be the end of the season for many competitors, above all the sprinters. They will flex their leg muscles, throw their elbow and butt their heads for one last time with the hope of putting their name in the annals of this Classic.

Although considered a sprinters' race, there are plenty of risers and côtes in the départements of Lort-et Cher and Indre-et-Loire to try the men-of-speed and give weight to an escape attempt, while the winds will add to the event's unpredictable character. Because of the geographical location of the event's route riders will either be pushed along or made to confront a day of head winds. The weather for Sunday is forecast to be dry and sunny with temperatures around 17°C, but how deep mother nature decides to inhale or exhale will not be known until the riders leave the start village of St-Arnoult-en-Yvelines.

The race is considered one for the sprinters, but it does not always nod in their favour. A famous example is when noted climber Richard Virenque won from a long two-man escape in 2001 with French compatriot Jacky Durand. Or last year, when Frédéric Guesdon (Française Des Jeux) and Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Team CSC) succeeded from an escape that was formed only 13 kilometres into the day's affairs. Guesdon, winner of the 1997 Paris-Roubaix, took the two-up sprint with only eight seconds of freedom to the sprinters who had been closing in the finale.

Notable climbs and kilometres into the race

Côte de St Oustrille          152.5
Côte de Crochu                229.5
Côte de l'Epan                248.5
Côte du Pont Volant           251
Côte du Petit Pas d'Ane       252
Freire is a likely race winner
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

Despite the upsets the punters will continue to put their money on the sprinters and there are plenty in the 23-team start list. Australian Robbie McEwen (Predictor-Lotto) is a noted favourite. Although the 35 year-old has racked up sprint wins in the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France he has never won the Paris-Tours. There are others just as strong and noted as Rockin' Robbie for their sprinting prowess who would also like to add Paris-Tours to their palmarès, like three-time World Champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Italian Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) and Norwegian Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole).

'Ale-Jet' Petacchi may have an advantage as he will be guided by three-time race winner, German Erik Zabel. The form of the 33 year-old from La Spezia is questionable, even though recently he bagged two wins recently at the Vuelta a España. The day, however, will be made easier for him since his Italy's current fastest man Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital) had to refuse invitation after doctors discovered he had microfracture of his right wrist.

Belgian Steegmans is one to watch
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
(Click for larger image)

Gert Steegmans (Quick.Step - Innergetic) could be one of the second-tier sprinters to move to the top step. His stage win in Gent during the Tour de France showed his strength against the best cycling has to offer, and recent stage wins, as well as his overall victory, at the Franco-Belge make him a marked man. Robert Hunter (Barloworld) made good on his team's wildcard invite by ASO at the Tour and has the potential to do the same in the one-day race organized by the same company.

Others with a mean-sprint are Alexandre Usov (Ag2r Prévoyance), Allan Davis (Discovery Channel), Danilo Napolitano (Lampre-Fondital) and Aurélien Clerc (Bouygues Telecom).

Let's not forget the versatile riders who shone in the World Championships two weeks prior. Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas), World TT Champ Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC), Jens Voigt (Team CSC), Philippe Gilbert (Française Des Jeux), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and Under 23 World Road Champ Peter Velits (Wiesenhof-Felt).

17 ProTour teams will be joined by the following six Professional-Continental teams: Wiesenhof-Felt (Ger), Chocolade Jacques-Topsport Vlaanderen (Bel), Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner (Bel), Agritubel (Fra), Barloworld (GBr) and Skil-Shimano (Ned). ProTour team T-Mobile will not take part because it is observing a one-week suspension and subsequently has decided to put the cap on a successful season.