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One of the final big races for the year will begin on Sunday as the peloton roll out for the start of the 106th edition of Paris-Tours. The race begins 100km outside of Paris in Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais taking a primarily southward direction before looping into Tours. It’s a long race at 235.5km but it also fast, taking a little under five and a half hours to complete.
There are few hills to be negotiated but along the course but it’s in the final half hour of racing that the peloton really comes to life. A number of steep climbs feature in the last 30km and it combination of narrow and twisting roads that make it an ideal place for a late break to launch an attack.
The race had traditionally been one for the sprinters. The combination of the high-speed bunch and endless 2.7km finishing straight along the Avenue de Grammont meant the fast men usual got their way. However, last year we saw the revised finishing straight, reduced to 800m due to railway developments play into the hands of the day’s winner Greg van Avermaet (BMC) perfectly.
Van Avermaet will be looking to capture his second Paris-Tours victory on Sunday but more importantly he’s chasing what will be his first victory of the year. He will doubt be looking to feature at the front of the race when it hits the final 10km in which the Côte de Beau-Soleil as well as the Côte de l’Epan and Côte du Petit Pas d’Ane must all be negotiated.
This has been where Philippe Gilbert (BMC) attacked to takes his victories in 2008 and 2009 however, the recently crowned road world champion is not schedule to start and will forgoe the chance to win a third edition of the race.
The final kilometres are not as easy to control as previous years and it’s only in the final 4km that the road opens back up, allowing the teams of the fast men to organise themselves at the front of the peloton. This will be the crucial time for the teams looking for a bunch sprint to put all their firepower into chasing down any dangerous escapees.
Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ-BigMat) has shown that his form is right on track when he beat other Paris-Tours favourite John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) at Paris-Bourges on Thursday. Bouhanni won the bunch sprint for second place after Bretagne-Schuller's Florian Vachon attacked in the final and held off the chasing bunch for the the win.
Degenkolb has already proven his legs are up to the task of longer races by finishing fifth at Milan-San Remo and after has shown he’s still in great condition after winning five stages at the Vuelta a España. He more recently finished third at both Paris-Bourges and Binche-Tournai-Binche. The young german and his Argos-Shimano team will do everything in their power to ensure he gets his chance for victory.
The other sprinters who look to be in the mix should it come down to a bunch sprint include Giacomo Nizzolo (RadioShack-Nissan), Australia’s Jonathan Cantwell (Saxo Bank – Tinkoff Bank), Jimmy Casper (Ag2r La Mondiale), Lars Boom (Rabobank) and Orica-GreenEdge’s Baden Cooke to name a few.