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A look at the school, the races and the future of this unique 'sport'
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Hello and welcome to CN's live coverage from Paris-Tours.
At the moment we have seven riders up the road and they have an advantage of just over five minutes. We'll bring you the names as soon as we can.
The weather isn't great today, rain and wind, and that could certainly play a part in the finale.
In the break we have Will Clarke (Leopard), David Boucher (Omega), Sébastien Delfosse (Landbouwkrediet), Rubens Bertogliati (Team Type 1) and Jurgen Van Goolen (Veranda's Willems - Accent).
At one point they had 11 minutes on the bunch but that gap has been reduced by the sprinters' teams.
It would be incorrect to say that this race has been dominated by sprinters. the likes of Virenque, Durand and Gilbert (twice) have all won here in the last ten years.
However there are a number of strong sprinters here today, and none better than new world champion Mark Cavendish, who is racing in the rainbow jersey for the first time.
The likes of Petacchi, Freire (last year's winner), McEwen, Bennati and Cooke will be pushing him though. You can see the full start list here.
This year's race starts in Voves and takes a looping course southwest to Tours. The route is not exactly flat, but it would be generous to call it “rolling.” The finale sees a major change this year, as the construction of a tramway in Tours means that the famous finishing straight on the Avenue de Grammont has been reduced from 3,000 metres to just 600.
If it comes down to a mass sprint, Cavendish can look to support from teammates Bernhard Eisel, John Degenkolb and Matthew Goss, who finished a close second in the Worlds road race. They won't be alone, though. Defending champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank) will be going for only his third season victory, and Vacansoleil-DCM's Romain Feillu (6th at the Worlds) will look for his chance, nor should Alessandro Petacchi of Lampre be counted out.
With just under 60km to go though the bunch are closing this gap rapidly. The last time check we had was just over a minute.
I'm surprised they're catching them so quickly. This doesn't play into the hands of the sprinters as they'll face a barrage of attacks from the riders who dont want to wait for a sprint. Whatever the outcome they're racing flat out now.
The break has been caught but there are counter attack coming thick and fast from the bunch.
Chavanel is using the opportunity to grab some food as the bunch ease up for a moment.
We have a large group off the front now with a three man chase group including tankink in between the leaders and the bunch.
Cavendish is still in the race. A lot of riders quit today because of the weather.
There are groups all over the road at the moment. Gilbert is in the main bunch with Cavendish, which is all strung out. Petacchi is also there.
The group off the front has around 20 riders, so it might be too big.
Right now a Garmin rider jumps from that group along with a rider from Sky. It all looks like it might come back together though.
Too many riders in that front group are just sitting on. They've got many 100 meters on the bunch.
Freire doesnt look great. He's right at the back of the bunch with a teammate.
The Spaniard still hasn't signed a contract for next season, a win today would push is value right up. Actually, it might just keep it at the level it's already at.
Dry roads for the bunch now as they weave through a small French town. Two riders have stayed out from that group.
The rest of the group, that includes Duque and O'Grady is still out there but the bunch is closing.
The gap has gone out to 1:19 with the urgency in the bunch slipping.
Sky has now decided that they have the numbers and the strength, and have moved up to the front.
The Rabobank rider and the chap from QuickStep have been caught.
HTC are driving the break, with Velits on the front.
The gap is up to 1:26 but the leaders keep attacking each other in a bid to get rid of the riders who are just sitting on. It means the pace isn't constant and they're losing a great opportunity to build on their lead.
O'Grady isn't happy with the amount of work coming from some of the others in the group. I'm not sure what he's expecting.
37k to go and the gap is now 1.35
HTC, Saxo and gaggle of FDJ riders move up to the front to work on bringing back the leaders. That's Lars Bak on the front, he's off the Lefevere's squad for next year.
The Dane has taken 10 seconds off the group already. it's at 1:25
Marcato and O'Grady decide they've had enough and attempt to break from the lead group. It doesnt work though and they're both brought back.
BMC has a man in the break but they're starting to position themselves near the front of the bunch too.
They've got a strong team here too with Greg Van Avermaet, Ballan, and Phinney.
But it's FDJ who has come to the front and started to set the pace. Straightaway Gilbert moves up. He won the race twice with that team, so perhaps he knew what to expect from Madiot's men.
25km to race and the gap has gone back out. it's at 1:32.
Error: Goss isn't even racing today. I mentioned him earlier. Apologies.
Is the bunch in a state of panic? FDJ pull off and the gap is now at 1:38. It's sparked a number of attacks and counter moves off the front. HTC seem to have called off the chase for Cav.
The lead group contains, O'Grady, Duque, Tjallingii, Marcato, Clarke and Bertogliati. We're working on getting more names.
McEwen is at the head of the bunch and he's not too happy with the work that's being put into the chase and lets everyone know.
All it does is distract a number of riders, leading to an attack.
And now Susan will take over until the finish.
Susan here, for the final 20km.
A handful of riders has gotten a slight lead over the field, including Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Marcus Burghart (BMC)-
18 km and 1:16. Will the group make it or not?
The Gilbert group has been caught, and now three other riders are giving it a try: Mathew Hayman (Sky), John Degenkolb (HTC) and a third we didn't catch.
The lead group is no longer working so well together. They seem to realize they have a chance to go for the win, but they certainly would rather come to the finish line with a group smaller than they have now. So they all want to dump each other...
Arnaud Gerard of FDJ has taken of out of the lead group.
The gap between the lead group and the peloton had fallen to 47 seconds but is now back up to over a minute. No one seems able to organize a chase.
Sylvain Chavanel has attacked out of the peloton.
Gerard is slowly but surely pulling away from the lead group.
Bodrogi is the next to attack out of the break group.
Bodrogi is back in the group.
No idea how far back the peloton is now.
Bertogliatti tries to get way from the break group now.
Bertogliati has put in a lot of work today, as he was in the early break. Looks like he will be caught though.
Has the peloton given up hope? This doesn't really look like a chase to us...
Marcato and Van Avermaet have now jumped out of the break group and are 10 seconds behind Gerard.
This is a very curving, rolling course, and not the widest road, either.
We still have one climb to go before the finish.
Marcato and Van Avermaet catch and pass Gerard.
Gerard now has a teammate with him, Delage, but he rest of the break group isn't that far back.
Gerard is having trouble staying with Delage. Will he let Delge go to catch the two ahead?
Meanwhile, Marcato and Van Avermaet are working well together and really motoring away.
Six seconds to the two FDJ riders and another six seconds to the break group.
Offhand we would say the gap to the leaders is mre than six seconds while the second gap is much smaller.
And a group of six including O'Grady catch the two Frenchmen.
19 seconds for the two leaders with 2 km to go.
Looks like the O'Grady group has accepted they won't catch them. Oops, so there goes Klöstergaard to try.
VAn Avermaet looks back to see where they are, and he and Marcato go under the 1km marker.
Klostergaard is still chasing but has no chance.
Van Avermaet lets Marcato lead the way. Then the Belgian jumps, just as Marcato has a cramp in his right leg.
Van Avermat takes it!
Marcato second, and Klostergaard third.
Nearly one and a half minute later, the peloton crosses the finish line.
That is Van Avermaet's fourth win this season. His first was a stage in the Tour of Austria. He then won a stage at the Tour de Wallonie, and then went on to win the overall.
The top ten today:
1 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team 5:21:43
2 Marco Marcato (Ita) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:00:02
3 Kasper Klostergaard Larsen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:00:15
4 Ian Stannard (GBr) Sky Procycling
5 Laszlo Bodrogi (Fra) Team Type 1 - Sanofi
6 Mickaël Delage (Fra) FDJ 0:00:22
7 Geoffroy Lequatre (Fra) Team RadioShack
8 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Leopard Trek
9 Roy Curvers (Ned) Skil - Shimano
10 Arnaud Gerard (Fra) FDJ
Not at all the mass sprint we expected!
Thanks for joining us today and come back again next weekend for the Giro di Lombardia.