Paris-Tours, happening Sunday, is the great “sprinters’ classic” we deserve... which is to say that it brings out the best in sprinters, but only the sprinters who are the best at cycling in a holistic way can win. It’s a fun race, and like the most fun races it could be won by about half the guys on the startlist.
But it will be interesting to see if it takes on a new dynamic this time around, happening as it does one week before the season’s biggest goal for sprinters, the Doha World Championship road race. Among the possibilities are that it’s the perfect prep, a harder terrain of almost the same distance (252km, 5k shorter than Doha’s planned route). Or that Doha is cut down to a pointless 100km criterium requiring almost none of the strength you need to win Paris-Tours.
So yeah, Paris-Tours.
Every year we caution that it’s a sprinters’ classic that might not be won by a sprinter or even in a sprint. Of the last ten editions, the score sits at two bunch gallops... and seven mini-sprints of two or so riders. Plus a solo win by Greg Van Avermaet five years ago. So when we say it’s a sprint-friendly course, we mostly mean it’s hard for a single rider to get away from his breakaway group before the last 50 meters. It’s an article of faith that there will be breakaways, and unless we see a truly motivated chase from the peloton, there’s a good reason to believe the break or breaks will succeed.
Briefly, there are two sets of people to keep track of, the pure sprinters and the classics guys who can finish off an attack. The former includes Andrea Guardini, Jempy Drucker, Nacer Bouhanni, Leo Duque, Mark Cavendish, Fernando Gaviria, Arnaud Demare, Bryan Coquard, Caleb Ewan, Michael Mathews, Luka Mezgec, Jacopo Guarnieri, Elia Viviani and probably a few more. The latter includes several of the former, like Arnaud and Mathews, plus Van Avermaet, Tom Boonen, Reinhard Janse van Rensburg, Sylvain Chavanel, Matt Hayman, Zdenek Stybar, Sep Vanmarcke, Luke Rowe, former winners Jelle Wallays and Matteo Trentin, and so on. Like I said, there are lots of guys who can win.
Missing from this list is a fair number of guys who will already be off to Doha for the TTT or just resting up for the road race or ITT. Worlds favorites like Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel were kept away from this race. Peter Sagan only seems to be everywhere at all times, and is in fact somewhere other than Paris right now. Alexander Kristoff will line up for Katusha in the TTT before he and Eddy Boss get ready to power Norway to glory. So Paris-Tours is hardly the all-in preview we have had of other world championships.
I do like getting these previews. Most Worlds courses are hard but not so selective that only a few winners can get it done. That means that the strongest rider, regardless of style, is quite often a good bet to win. Hearken back to 1986, when the Worlds were in Colorado, meaning everyone had to get there ahead of time to acclimate. Shortly before the race, Moreno Argentin made a powerful statement with a victory in a relatively similar Coors Classic stage. Like a week or two later he was pulling on the rainbows.
Will we get some indicator of great form from the top few guys of Paris-Tours? Probably yes! And that will ... add a couple names to the list of guys who aren’t there as favorites, if they don’t shorten the race and make it a complete shit show, as I expect they will. If Cavendish pulls it off, that will definitely stir the intrigue for Worlds, regardless of how that race plays out.
But with disaster looming in Doha, maybe another way to look at this is as the world championship we wish we had instead of the one we’re getting. My pick... Van Avermaet.