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The Big Paris-Tours Preview! On the flip...

I don't have time or anything much to add to concoct an in-depth preview of tomorrow's Paris-Tours. It's your basic 230km classic that will probably end in a medium-sized sprint, unless some enterprising lad or lads break away at an opportune moment. I mean, the last three winners are Philippe Gilbert x2 (over just Boonen in '09 and out of a 4-man break in '08) and Alessandro Petacchi (out of a select breakaway of 83 riders). So like the Worlds Road Race, there's plenty of intrigue about whether to expect a sprint... but nobody should be surprised.

A bigger source of intrigue on this penultimate and moderately awesome weekend is who's where and how do they feel. Last year at this time everybody was in town, more or less, and the Gilbert-Boonen duo barely held off Borut Bozic, followed by a dozen sprinters and classics guys like Pozzato, Freire, Gavazzi, Hooter, Hoogie and Van Avermaet. Nobody was twittering madly about time zones and lost luggage. It was just game on for another ancient classic. This year a lot of the favorites have excuses ready, but a week later it'll be interesting to see who resorts to them. Sure, the results in Emilia point to the value of not having traveled to Australia and back, but at some point it's no longer an issue. Ask Vincenzo Nibali, who should have been exhausted weeks ago.

Anyway, Gilbert is here to defend his crown. Despite his sprinting last year, he showed in the worlds that he's not especially comfortable with a big bunch gallop, and it will be up to his team or maybe the weather to make the race hard enough to forestall the bunch. Omega Pharma are loaded up to support him, with Leif Hoste, Greg Van Avermaet and Jurgen Roelandts in tow. Thor Hushovd and his Cervelo Test Team didn't get an invite, so rainbow stripes will debut in Italy later in the week rather than in the suburbs of Paris (sniff). Boonen is back to challenge Gilbert... or maybe just try to get the feeling of racing back in his legs before heading off to Bermuda. Not sure; but something tells me he'd rather escape again rather than take his chances against the field. Sylvain Chavanel is plan B, and Wouter Weylandt, Kevin Hulsmans and Matteo Tossatto beef up Belgium's other squad. More from the startlist:

  • Feillu and Bozic are teammates now. Could Vacansoleil earn some redemption at last?
  • Pozzato and Freire were both looking good in Australia. If they're back on CET, look out.
  • Daniele Bennati was home resting, and while I've stopped calling his number until he wins something, circumstances are ripe. Chicchi was last seen winning in some smaller events. Sagan is a beast.
  • Matti Breschel is actually my favorite to win. 
  • Bernhard Eisel should be close by. Apart from him, HTC and Garmin aren't loading up here.
  • And if anyone takes their eyes off Thomas Voeckler for long... well, don't say I didn't warn you.