By Hedwig Kröner
Paris-Tours, a long event of over 250 kilometres is one of the last prestigious races of the season calendar. Known as being a race for final bunch sprints thanks to a rather flat course and a long last straight on the avenue de Grammont, this tradition has witnessed a bit of a twist in recent years. In the last nine editions, victory was only decided twice in a sprint finish, with the triumphs of Nicola Minali in 1996 and Erik Zabel in 2003. Meanwhile, quite a few adventurers saw their audacity rewarded, like Jacky Durand in 1998, Richard Virenque in 2001, Jakob Piil in 2002 and Erik Dekker in the last edition.
All kinds of scenarios are therefore possible after 253.5 kilometres, when the race ends on the three-kilometre finish straight in front of the Tours City hall on Sunday afternoon. Victory could come from the CSC team with strong motors like Lars Michaelsen or Paris-Bourges winner Lars Bak, but also in the shape of riders like Fassa Bortolo's Juan Antonio Flecha and Liquigas' Danilo Di Luca - the peloton will indeed not lack big-name competitors.
In case no breakaway attempt proves to be the winning card, the famous final velocity test promises to honour Paris-Tours' surname: the "Sprinters' Alpe d'Huez". Robbie McEwen, winner of three stages in the Giro and in the Tour de France respectively will be surrounded by quite a few candidates to the last few metres, especially Thor Hushovd, Jean-Patrick Nazon and Erik Zabel, for whom it is the last race in T-Mobile colours: the German is changing to newly-created Milram squad next season.