Well, despite some people's wishes, the race of the weekend is hands-down Paris-Tours, the so-called sprinters' classic that isn't necessarily going to be won by a sprinter. Want proof? Here's Philippe Gilbert winning in 2009, over Boonen and Bozic... and not in a classic sprint. The most instructive portion of this video is the long shot of the Rue de Grammont, where you can see some 50 guys or so in various groups, not separated by much but just enough. The hard day out and the final climbs will scatter the field; it's just a question of whether they reassemble or not.
Deets and rundown of the players on the flip...
As for those final climbs...
They're not very hard, unless someone makes them hard. Which someone will. I wonder who...?
Oh, right. I know, going to the well a lot here with this analysis, but consider: he's a two-time winner, and he'd maybe have owned the race outright if it weren't for this guy:
No, wait, this guy:
I always get them confused. Anyway, Filippo Pozzato allegedly marked Gilbert out of the race last year, extinguishing his attack on the Cote de l'Epan. This year the role of Gilbert-spoiler will be played by some combination of Mark Cavendish's current teammates and/or the guys he'll be racing with next year, whoever they are. If there are any. I still haven't given up on the idea that he can race unattached. Really, it makes total sense.
Anyway, if there's a sprint, the question will be whether Cavendish -- debuting his rainbow stripes -- can make the front group. He is almost certain to be nearby, but the separations that happen after 230km of hard racing can be small yet deadly. In 2009 a large pack finished 16 seconds back. In 2008 a true peloton was 4" too late. Last year 76 guys came in together. In 2000 Andrea Tafi won by 39 seconds, the largest margin of victory (and then some) of the last dozen years. It'll be Cav, or it'll be close.
If it's not Cav, I can think of a few classics guys who -- if on form -- would love to take their chances in the final 10km, Chavanel? Van Avermaet? Flecha? Sep? And if it's a Cav-less sprint, the list of guys to watch includes defending champ Oscar Freire, Alessandro Petacchi, John Degenkolb, Romain Feillu, Daniele Bennati, Robbie McEwen and Chris Sutton. Should be fun to watch... especially the last 40 minutes or so.
Who ya got?