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102nd Paris-Tours - HC

France, October 12, 2008

Live commentary by Hedwig Kröner

14:00 CEST    109km/143km to go
Bonjour les amoureux du cyclisme, et bienvenue à la 102ème édition de Paris-Tours! Okay, let's try this again in English: Good day cycling lovers, and welcome to the 102nd edition of Paris-Tours! The race, as you know, is a sprinter's delight, but the hopes of the fast men could very well be spoiled by late attackers or a breakaway, as has been done several times in the past.

The bunch got underway in Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines at 11.10am - almost three hours ago - and is steadily moving towards Tours at the moment. We have a breakaway of five riders at the front: David Zabriskie and Lucas Euser (both Slipstream), Sébastien Delfosse (Landbouwkrediet), Cyril Lemoine (Crédit Agricole) and Tom Veelers (Skil-Shimano). They currently have an advantage of just over 7 minutes over the bunch.

14:08 CEST   
At first, the breakaway included only four riders: Euser, Delfosse, Lemoine and Veelers, who jumped out of the peloton at km 7. They quickly gained a serious gap, but after 30 kms raced, Zabriskie counter-attacked and went after the group. Even though the American had to chase back on a break that was already 3'25 away, he gave it full gas and joined them at km 47.

It was in the town of Bonneval (km 66.5) that the break peaked its advantage with the peloton 11'15 minutes adrift. Since then, a few teams have started to reel them in again for a possible bunch sprint finish later on Tours' Avenue de Grammont.

The first two hours of the race were completed with an average speed of 42,7 km/h.

14:13 CEST   
The riders were seen off under clear skies this morning, and we're happy to announce that the weather conditions have been virtually unchanged since then. Even though the sun is veiled by a few hazy clouds, temperatures are up to about 22° Celsius and there is no wind. Ideal conditions for a ride on a beautiful autumn day.

14:19 CEST   
News from the anti-doping front: UCI inspectors proceeded to a total of 53 controls this morning before the start of the race. Riders from teams Garmin-Chipotle, CSC Saxo Bank, Cycle Collstrop, Caisse d’Epargne, Columbia and Skil-Shimano were tested, and all declared apt to compete.

14:23 CEST    127km/125km to go
The gap is down to 4'50 minutes. The teams Rabobank, Liquigas and Silence-Lotto are the ones doing most of the work to reel the break in. The Dutch team is obviously doing its job for Oscar Freire, the Italian for Daniele Bennati and the Belgian for Robbie McEwen.

14:32 CEST   
But Kevin Hulsmans (Quickstep) is also lending a leg or two in the chase, as would be his duty for team leader Tom Boonen.

The sprinters are eager to win again in Paris-Tours. Robbie McEwen, Tom Boonen and Oscar Freire have never been able to put this prestigious race on their palmarès - unlike Erik Zabel (Milram), who is also here today and could add a fourth victory of the event to his long list of success before retiring.

This is his farewell race in pro cycling...

14:40 CEST   
La Française des Jeux rider Christophe Mengin is also lining up for the very last time at the event, as well as French team Crédit Agricole, which will fold at the end of the year after 10 years of existence in the peloton. No wonder they have a rider in the break: Cyril Lemoine.

14:44 CEST    144km/108km to go
It seems the bunch doesn't want to catch the break too early, either, for fear of dangerous counter-attacks. Its pace has smoothed a bit, and the gap to the escape increased to over five minutes again. There's still some way to go, guys!

14:51 CEST   
The riders have passed the feed zone in Vendôme and received some much needed energy. The beautiful landscapes of the Loir-et-Cher département are flying by...

Defending champion Alessandro Petacchi has to watch the race on TV today. Organiser ASO did not invite his LPR Brakes team as it is apparently not part of the biological passport programme of the UCI. ASO, which makes a point of its zero-tolerance policy with regards to cheating, also refused entries to Cycle Collstrop and Mitsubishi at first, but then allowed Cycle Collstrop in again after the UCI declared that its riders complied with the programme.

14:58 CEST   
We're slowly but steadily nearing some bumps on the route's profile. At kms 179 and 189, nasty little ascents to Cangey and Amboise await the riders. These won't be race-decisive, though, as three other Côtes are strategically better-placed further towards the finish: The Côte de Crochu (29 kms to go), Côte de l'Epan (10 kms to go) and Côte du Petit Pas d'Ane (6 kms to go). It will be an exciting race finale!

15:10 CEST    162km/90km to go
The gap is back to 4'30 minutes and holding.

15:17 CEST   
Bernardo Riccio (Tinkoff) has abandoned.

During the fourth hour of the race, the rider averaged 41 km/h - that makes an average speed of 42,1 km/h since the start in Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines.

15:22 CEST   
Amongst the German sprinters, there is not only Erik Zabel to watch during the race finale. Team Columbia has brought Gerald Ciolek to France today, and Gerolsteiner is placing some hopes on Robert Förster.

15:26 CEST    176km/76km to go
3'25 minutes left for the breakaway. It's funny that David Zabriskie is wearing a skin suit today... on a 252 kms classic!

15:29 CEST   
Kevin "Hulse" Hulsmans is still leading out the bunch. Good job.

15:32 CEST   
They're riding along a vineyard now. The vine's leaves are still green, but already have a golden glow.

"Hulse" gets some help from a Lilence-Lotto rider.

15:38 CEST   
The riders are now in the département of Indre-et-Loire, the home of Crédit Agricole's Cyril Lemoine. The Frenchman was born in Tours almost 25 years ago.

15:43 CEST   
We still wonder about Zabriskie's skin suit. Did he forget to bring his jerseys and knicks? Was his suitcase lost? Or is he wearing his TT kit on purpose? Looks like he hasn't shaved since the Worlds, where he finished third in the race against the clock.

15:47 CEST   
Some riders got caught off-guard by a road narrowing and had to hop on the sidewalks. All went fine, though. A few riders are chasing back to the end of the bunch within the team car caravan.

15:50 CEST   
The bunch has passed the château d’Amboise, an impressive fortress looking down on the Loire river. The gap between the break and the peloton keeps shrinking, now down to a mere 2'20.

15:52 CEST   
We have news from Italy: Contrary to what we thought, 2007 Paris-Tour winner Alessandro Petacchi is not currently sitting in front of his TV to watch the French race. He actually raced - and won! - the Grand Prix Beghelli this afternoon. Sorry about that, and congrats to he Ale-Jet!

15:55 CEST   
Zabriskie bends down to aero position as he drives the escape group. Behind him, Kevin Hulsmans is still one of the main drivers of the bunch. The road is large and dead straight at this point, passing through a forest.

15:57 CEST   
The new world champion, Alessandro Ballan (Lampre), sits comfortably in the middle of the peloton. Will he be one of the guys to attack during the finale? Other strong punchers here today are: Olympic Champion Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel), Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux), Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas), Nick Nuyens (Cofidis), Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) and Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom).

16:02 CEST   
Mike Dawson from Illinois wrote in to guess that Zabriskie may be a rolling billboard for a new Pearl Izumi skin suit. Any other guesses?

16:06 CEST    207km/45km to go
With 45 kilometres yet to go, the break still leads the bunch by 2'30 minutes.

The Espoir race just ended here in Tours, with Tony Gallopin - the son of Alain Gallopin, Astana directeur sportif - took the victory on the Avenue de Grammont.

16:08 CEST   
A quick update on the weather: The sky is totally clear, and there is not even a light breeze to be felt on the road today, so the finale will all be down to pure pedal power.

16:13 CEST   
Gregg from Ohio offers us this as an explanation why Dave Z is wearing a skin suit today: The skin suit's reduced drag offsets the added wind resistance of the beard... Dave has actually gotten rid of his moustache, Gregg, but he still has some facial hair left.

16:16 CEST    215km/37km to go
1'30 minutes between the break and the bunch. Riders are starting to get nervous as the finale approaches.

16:20 CEST   
A traffic island just gave a good fright to some riders as the rode around a left hand bend. No-one crashed, though.

16:23 CEST    222km/30km to go
Teams Columbia and Milram are now also active at the front of the bunch. The sprinters' teams will want to keep the pace as high as possible. The gap will drop below the minute soon.

16:29 CEST   
Thomas Voeckler is amongst the first of the bunch as the gap is down to 40 seconds. Everybody checks their shoulders. The first attacks go...

16:30 CEST   
Cyril Lemoine is alone at the front now, while the others are getting caught by various small groups preceding the peloton.

16:32 CEST   
Voeckler and a Maarten Tjallingii (Silence-Lotto) are in his pursuit. The bunch is torn apart and strung out. Lemoine holds on but the chasers have him in eyesight on a bridge.

16:34 CEST    230km/22km to go
Lemoine is caught by a group of 11 riders - which is now splitting apart again.

16:36 CEST   
The group has 11 seconds over the bunch. There's Tony Martin of Columbia, too.

16:37 CEST   
Jos van Emden went down and caused a traffic jam on a small bridge. He didn't hurt himself, fortunately. But at this point in the race, it will be hard to chase back to the front for those riders who got trapped there!

16:38 CEST   
Tom Boonen (Quickstep) has bridged up to the leading group around Voeckler and Martin! The bunch is right behind them.

16:40 CEST    235km/17km to go
Peloton together. The Côte de l'Epan (10 kms to go) and the Côte du Petit Pas d'Ane (6 kms to go) are still coming up, and should shake up things again.

16:42 CEST    236km/16km to go
Sébastien Turgot from Bouygues didn't wait that long and is off the front, now joined by two other riders: Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel) and a FDJ rider.

16:45 CEST   
But they only have a few seconds, even if another rider joined them. They are four: Sébastien Turgot (Bouygues), Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel), Mickaël Delage (FdJ) and Jan Kuyckx (Landbouwkrediet).

16:47 CEST   
18 seconds for the quartet. Quick Step controls them.

16:48 CEST    241km/11km to go
Rabobank's Gerben Löwik crashed towards the back of the bunch, but he's back on his feet. Nothing to worry about.

16:49 CEST    243km/9km to go
23 seconds. They are at the foot of the Côte now.

16:50 CEST   
Kuyckx is driving it in front, while an AG2R rider jumps out of the bunch, but he can't make a difference.

16:52 CEST   
A Caisse d'Epargne rider is now leading the peloton out as they made it over the Côte de l'Epan. Philippe Gilbert in third position... Pozzato is there, too.

16:53 CEST    246km/6km to go
The gap is down to 12 seconds. The last climb, the Côte du petit pas d'ane, is just coming up now.

16:54 CEST   
Pozzato and Gilbert grind their teeth on the climb, but can't get rid of the bunch. It's a very fast race now.

16:56 CEST    248km/4km to go
All the big sprinters are still in the bunch, while Gilbert bridged up to the break. Pozzato is sandwiched in between.

16:57 CEST    249km/3km to go
The break only has a few seconds over the bunch, maybe 15. Still, you never know...

16:59 CEST   
Delage leads out for Gilbert. The sprinters' train is set up. They're on the Avenue de Grammont, it's dead straight.

16:59 CEST   
Delage doing his job. Vogondy in third position. Vogondy goes.

17:00 CEST   
And Gilbert wins!!!

17:00 CEST   
The bunch comes in just behind. The sprinters tricked, once again! This Paris-Tours is treacherous... Kuyckx second and Turgot third.

17:07 CEST   
And Tyler Farrar of the USA took the sprint of the bunch, just 4 seconds back. He got fifth.

That was an exciting finale of Paris-Tours. Again, the sprinters arrived just a tad late on the Avenue de Grammont, and a great Belgian Classics hopeful scored his first major victory.

Join us again next week-end for the Giro di Lombardia in Italy. And have a good ride yourselves!

Results

Provisional
1 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Francaise des Jeux
2 Jan Kuyckx (Bel) Landbouwkrediet                             
3 Sébastien Turgot (Fra) Bouygues                         
4 Nicolas Vogondy (Fra) Agritubel   
5 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin Chipotle - H30
6 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Silence-Lotto
7 Erik Zabel (Ger) Team Milram 
8 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas
9 Kristof Goddaert (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen
10 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step