Paris-Tours: One for the sprinters

Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) will debut his rainbow jersey this weekend as the sprinters have their next big outing. The 105th running of Paris-Tours should come down to who has the fastest legs after 230.5 kilometres.

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.

It doesn't necessarily have to be a sprint, of course. Philippe Gilbert of Omega Pharma-Lotto has won here twice, and could take advantage of the tricky finish to slip away. Others who could do the same include Quick Step's Sylvain Chavanel, Jens Voigt (Leopard Trek), Thomas Voeckler of Europcar or Frederic Guesdon (FDJ), who won in exactly that fashion in 2006.

If Gilbert were to add another win to his outstanding 2010 season and take his third victory here, he would join an elite group. In the past, only Belgians Gustave Danneels and Guido Reybroeck, Frenchman Paul Maye and German Erik Zabel have won here three times.

Twenty-five teams will be at the start, 13 ProTour teams, 10 Professional Continental and one Continental team. Seven of those teams come from the homeland: AG2R, Bretagne-Schulller, Cofidis, FDJ, Saus-Sojasun, Europcar and BigMat Auber 93.

Paris-Tours was first run, for amateurs, in 1896, and didn't reappear until 1901. It turned to the pro riders in 1906, where it has stayed for the last 105 years. The course has changed many times over the years, as Paris itself has not been the start for much of the time, and for a spell in the 1970s and 80s, it ran in the opposite direction as Blois-Chaville.

The weather has often played a role, with a strong wind helping Freire to the fastest speed in a Classic in 2010, 47.739 km/h. An early winter in 1921 even brought a blizzard, causing half the field to abandon along the way. None of those problems are expected this year, as the forecast is for overcast skies and an autumnal 16° Celsius.

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