Here are a few things to talk about with regards to Paris-Tours, the season's penultimate Classic/Pro Tour event, besides how god-awfully flat it is:
- Not a lot of races date back to the time of the Habsburgs... but Paris-Tours is 100 events and 111 years old, a longevity and continuity most of the world's greatest races would envy.
- The list of winners is colorful indeed: Christophe, Thys, Pélissier, Suter, Van Looy, Moser, Maertens, Zoetemelk, Raas, Kelly, Anderson, Museeuw, Zabel... to name a few. My personal favorite winners are Oscar Egg and Peter Pieters. But no Merckx. In fact, if there's anything truly elite about this race, it's that it's so flat as to be beyond the grasp of many of the sport's most celebrated riders.
- Along similar lines, the race is known as the flat half of the Autumn Double, along with the Giro di Lombardia climbfest. Winning both is almost impossible, having been done only four times by three riders, the last being Jo de Roo in 1963.
- The tinkering with the course is its own legend. They've lengthened it out to 347km in search of more hills. They've added closing circuits around Tours. For a few years they placed limits on gearing to two rear cogs for a couple years (winners used 53x15 and 53x16). They've reversed the course, or run it in both directions. Now it's settled in at around 250km with a few noticeable hills close to the finish on the off-chance anyone can get away.
- As recently as last year the bunch sprint didn't materialize, not for first at least. Frédéric Guesdon stole the win in a two-up sprint over Kurt Asle Arveson. More unusual was Richard Virenque's solo win in 2001, fresh off his doping confession (whoops!), another narrow escape. So bunch sprints can't be assumed.
I'll try to run down the favorites, but the list is long and hard to parse through. Go to the official site for lots of info. It's an ASO race, but Le Tour is being diligent about English coverage these days.