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Photo: Sirotti




11.10.2015 @ 15:05 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

The season is coming to a close and many riders have put the curtain down on their seasons. Nonetheless, one of the biggest classics is still up for grabs. Paris-Tours may have lost a bit of prestige in recent years but its deep history makes it one of the most coveted races on the autumn calendar. Being one of the few major classics the sprinters can realistically target, it offers an incentive for the fast men to keep going all the way to the end and no sprinter palmares is complete without one of the oldest one-day races.


The climbers had their great finale last Sunday in Il Lombardia and now it is time for the sprinters to bring their season to a close with one of their biggest classics. Traditionally, Paris-Tours brings the curtain down on the season for the sprinters who relish their chance to add one of the major races to their palmares on a mostly flat course that suits them well.


What makes Paris-Tours a highly prestigious race is its long history. First held as an amateur event in 1896, the race had a scrappy beginning and wasn't back on the calendar until five years later. Another 5-year break followed until the paper L'Auto which also organized the Tour de France, took over the reins and organized it as an annual event for professionals starting in 1906.


Since then, the race has been an important element on the international calendar with only the 1915, 1916 and 1940 events being cancelled due to the world wars. Having originally been an autumn race, the event was moved to a spring date for the 1911 edition and remained there until 1951. Since then, it has had its current role as one of the major season-ending races held either in late September or in early October.


It just takes a short glance at the list of winners to realize that this is one of the major races on the cycling calendar. Several big-name riders - most of them sprinters and classics specialists - have won the race but it is one of the few major classics that eluded Eddy Merckx. The Belgian could have won the race in 1968 but chose to hand the victory to teammate Guido Reybrouck and never managed to triumph in Tours. Four riders have won the race 3 times: Gustaf Daneels, Paul Mayé, Reybrouck and most recently Erik Zabel who won the 1994, 2003 and 2005 editions of the race.


With its long history and high prestige, it was no wonder that the race was included on the World Cup calendar when the major one-day races were gathered in a season-long series prior to the 1989 season. It remained an important part of that competition until its demise in 2004 and was immediately included on the ProTour calendar when that new series was introduced for the 2005 season.


Like most other major French races, the race is organized by Tour de France organizers ASO - a legacy that goes back to L'Auto and the 1906 edition of the race - and so it was part of the conflict that raged between the grand tour organizers and the UCI and culminated in 2008. Like all other races organized by ASO, RCS or Unipublic, the race was removed from the calendar in 2008 but when an agreement between the parties was reached to make up a new world calendar for the 2009 season, the race was the only one not to be reinstated as one of the major races of cycling. Since then, it has been organized as a 1.HC on the UCI Europe Tour.


This relegation has seen the race lose a bit of prestige as all ProTeams are no longer obliged to line up at the major autumn classic. This year, only 10 of the 17 ProTeams will be on the start line with the rest of the 24 teams being made up of pro continental and even continental teams. Katusha, Lampre-Merida, Cannondale-Garmin, Astana, Orica-GreenEDGE, Movistar and Sky will not be at the start on Sunday.


In 2012, the UCI dealt the event a further blow when they restructured the calendar. For several years, Paris-Tours was held on the first Sunday after the world championships, with Il Lombardia bringing the curtain down on the classics season 6 days later. For the 2012 season, UCI decided to swap the two events around to create a better synergy between Il Lombardia and the battle for the rainbow jersey. While the Italian classic has seen a boosted line-up for its most recent editions, the French race has found it more difficult to attract the major sprinters who have often ended their season at this time of the year. This has of course been aggravated by the hilly courses for the most of the latest World Championships road races as most of the sprinters had already ended their season at the time of the battle for the rainbow jersey. This year’s flatter Worlds course meant that most of the sprinters were present in Richmond but surprisingly few of them have decided to prolong their season for another two weeks. While several strong sprinters will be on the start line, it is an indication of the loss of prestige that riders like Andre Greipel, John Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff have not found it worthwhile to include it on the calendar.


This year things have even got more difficult. In recent year the race has been fighting against the sprint-friendly Tour of Beijning for the attention of the sprinters but as many riders were reluctant to travel all the way to China at this time of the year, it did not have a big impact on the field for Paris-Tours. This year the new Abu Dhabi Tour has been created and has made things much harder for ASO. The Arabic race is backed by RCS and wealthy local organizers and is also cooperating with the powerful Velon group of teams. There is no doubt that it hurts for nostalgic cycling fans to see sprinters like Elia Viviani, Sacha Modolo, Peter Sagan, Marcel Kittel and Andrea Guardini head to Ab Dhabi instead of doing one of cycling’s big classics. To add to ASO’s woes, the final stage of the new race will finish around the same time as the French race, meaning that we could very literally have two big bunch sprints at the same time to underline the fierce battle for the attention of the sprinters.


It is no wonder that the race has been a stomping ground for sprinters. Held in a part of France that is mostly flat, the amount of climbing is bearable and the race often ends in a bunch sprint. Since 1919, the organizers have tried to make things a bit tougher by approaching Tours from different directions to add more climbs but it has made little difference. Between 1974 and 1987, the route constantly changed and changed name several times as numerous editions didn't even finish in Tours. In 1988, the race was back in its usual finishing city even though the shorter distances of modern day cycling means that a start in Paris is no longer possible. Due to its position as a Europe Tour race, the race is no longer one of the longest on a the calendar, with the length having been shortened from 250-260km to around 230km since the 2009 edition.


That being said, the sprinters have often been foiled in recent years. The approach to Tours includes several smaller hills and they have been enough to deny the sprinters the chance to sprint for victory. Since the year 2000, only 5 editions have finished in bunch sprints, with the 2013 edition being the first to be won by a sprinter since Oscar Freire took his only win in the race in 2010. For many years, the race was known for its long finishing straight on the famous Avenue de Grammont but since 2011, the construction of a new tram line has forced ASO to shorten the straight, making life even more difficult for the sprinters.


Last year the attackers again managed to deny the sprinters the glory in Tours. The early 7-rider break included Kevin Van Melsen, Thomas Voeckler and Jelle Wallays and was not expected to pose any threat to the sprint teams. However, the group turned out to be harder to catch than anyone had thought and after Van Melsen had been left behind with 10km to go, only Voeckler and Wallays were left. They managed to hold off an unorganized chase group that had emerged on the final climbs and included John Degenkolb, Greg Van Avermaet and Arnaud Demare. Wallays took a hugely surprising win by beating a very frustrated Voeckler who refused to attend the podium presentation. Behind, a regrouping had taken place and it was Jens Debusschere who won the bunch sprint for third. Wallays will be back to defend his title after riding very aggressively in the Tour de l’Eurometropole while Debusschere is aiming for his first big classics win on the back end of a great autumn season. Despite showing good form in the recent races, Voeckler will not return to the race in 2015.


The course

As said, ASO have made lots of changes to the course, trying to make the run-in to the finish a bit harder. However, the changes have made little difference and in recent years they have found a rather fixed format. All plans of moving the finish away from Tours have been abandoned and nowadays the approach to the finish is always the same, with the riders tackling the same two climbs in the finale. The only main change is the shorter finishing straight which has made life tougher for the sprinters.


While the second half of the race is usually the same, ASO usually make a few changes to the opening part, with the starting city changing from year to year, but the main characteristics of the course remain the same. Since 2009, the length has usually been at around 230km and the race starts somewhere north of Tours and continues in a mostly southern direction towards the finish and the traditional small loop around the city that includes a few smaller climbs during the run-in to the great finale on Avenue de Grammont. This year will be no different and the 2015 edition shapes up to be a classic version of the race.


As said, the days when the race started in Paris are long gone and this year's edition will take off from Chartres which has replaced Bonneval as the site of departure. As the new starting city is located further north than the previous one, there is no need for an opening circuit like the race had last year. Instead, they will start their southerly journey immediately and will even pass through Bonneval after 44km of racing before they reach last year's course close to the city of Chateaudun. From there, the course will be almost identical to the one that was used in 2014, with just a small deviation with 40-50km to go that should make no big difference. The total distance has been slightly shortened from last year’s 237.5km to 231km.


The long southerly journey includes a short section where the riders are riding in a westerly direction and is mostly flat, with only a few small climbs included along the way to tire out the riders' legs. The only real difficulty is the wind that has often had a major impact on the race. As the riders are travelling in the same direction almost all day, it can be extremely stressful if it’s a day with crosswinds. With a headwind, it can be a long day of slow and controlled riding while we have had some blistering speeds on days with a tailwind.


As usual the riders will continue past Tours and make a small loop in the area southeast of the city to approach the finish from a southwesterly direction. This is where the main difficulties are all located as the riders are led onto small, twisting roads that are mostly flat but have a number of smaller climbs of which three deserve a mention.


Things kick off with the Cote de Crochu 28km from the finish – this is slightly closer to the end of the race than usual due to the small modifications – but the scene for the decisive attacks that may foil the sprinters are the Cote de Beau Soleil and Cote de l'Epan that are located 9.5km and 7km from the finish respectively. At the top of both climbs the riders continue for a little while before reaching the descents. The final downhill section leads to the final 5km stretch that is almost entirely flat.


The run-in to the finish is not too complicated from a technical point of view but some of the roads are narrow. There are two sharp turns on the final descent and then there are turns 3.2km, 2km and 800m from the line. As said, the finishing straight on the Avenue de Grammont has been shortened since 2011, making it more feasible for the attackers to stay away all the way to the finish. After all there is a vast difference between the 800m finishing straight of the 2015 race and the very long straight of several kilometres that was known as a sprint paradise in the past.


It would be a mistake to compare Paris-Tours to a flat stage in a grand tour. Due to the lack of geographical challenges, the classics specialists have to ride hard to produce the kind of selection that can allow them to go for the victory and the most recent editions have all been raced at very high speed, with 2012 being a slight exception. In 2012, Oscar Freire's 2010 record was broken when Marco Marcato covered the distance at an average speed of 48.629km/h.


The early part of the stage usually pans out like every other race with the creation of an early breakaway but for the riders, it's about staying careful all the time. Whenever there's a chance to split things up in the wind, one or more teams will try to exploit the situation and the opening part can either be very controlled or surprisingly selective. The final 50km are usually a festival of attacks with numerous groups going up the road at different points of the race.


The decisive attacks are usually launched on the two climbs inside the final 10km but may take off a bit earlier as it was the case in 2012 when Marco Marcato's winning group got away with 25km to go before being trimmed down to a trio on the late climbs. In 2011, the selection was made in the wind more than 50km from the finish. The two final climbs were the launch pads for Philippe Gilbert’s wins when he took back-to-back victories in 2008 and 2009. After the Cote de l’Epan, it is time to take stock of the situation and for the depleted sprint teams to get organized. The final 7.5km from the Cote de l'Epan to the finish usually develop into a fierce pursuit where the sprint teams try to reel in the attackers while also keeping something left in the tank for the lead-out and this has often produced some highly entertaining and disorganized racing.





The weather

For a flat race like Paris-Tours, the weather plays a crucial role as the wind is often one of the key factors that shape the race. Sun and headwind will make it much easier for the sprinters while rain and crosswinds can turn the race into a very selective affair. This year the wind won’t be very strong but with a cross-tailwind for most of the day, it may have a significant impact on the race.


As an autumn race, Paris-Tours has often had rainy conditions but that has not been the case for a number of years and it doesn’t seem like it will change in 2015. Sunday is forecasted to be a beautiful sunny day with a maximum temperature at the finish of 16 degrees and there is virtually no chance that the riders will see a single raindrop.


There will be a moderate wind from an east-north-easterly direction which means that the riders will have a dangerous cross-tailwind for most of the day as they travel towards the south. In the final 50km, they will turn into a tailwind as they go around the city of Tours but for the final 15km, it will mainly be a headwind. With 3.2km to go, the riders will turn into a crosswind and then there will just be another short headwind section before they will turn into a crosswind for the finishing straight.


The favourites

Paris-Tours is always one of the most strange and unpredictable races on the calendar. If the race had been held at almost any other time of the year, the tiny climbs in the finale would never have a chance to prevent a bunch sprint and the race would be far more predictable. However, things are different in an event that is the final race for almost all the riders. Motivation can be pretty low, fatigue has set in and the form is not where it was earlier in the year.


In the past, the sprinters always had the upper hand in Paris-Tours and most of the times it came down to the expected bunch sprint on the Avenue de Grammont. However, things have changed recently due to a number of circumstances and most notably two factors seem to play a big role in making the race suited to attackers.


First of all, the shorter finishing straight means that there is less time to organize a chase. This has made it much harder for the sprinters to get back in contention. Secondly, the calendar change and reduced prestige have played a role. There are less big-name sprinters in the race and this makes it harder to control. Secondly, the riders are simply less motivated two weeks after the Worlds than they were when the race was held one week earlier and this makes it easier to create a surprise. Coming two weeks after the Worlds, it is harder for the riders to maintain their condition. Even though the sprinters are still in great form, none of them are surrounded by 7 fresh domestiques. Lots of squads are depleted and the race usually has many abandonments. At this point of the season, it is simply easier for the fresher riders to make a difference.It is definitely no coincidence that only one of the four latest editions and two of the seven latest editions have been decided in a bunch sprint.


The key factor in determining the outcome has always been the weather. In calm conditions, it is much harder to create a selection and the probability of a sprint finish is a lot higher. In wet and windy weather, the race can split in the wind and slippery conditions make it much harder to organize a chase on the twisting, narrow roads in the finale.


Nowadays, it looks like the safe bet is to put the money on the attackers but the weather suggests that 2015 could be a year for the sprinters. Sunday will be a sunny day in France and there won’t be much wind. Even though it will be a crosswind for most of the day, it is probably not enough to split the field. Of course it will create some nervousness but there is a solid chance that most of the field will be rather fresh in the finale.


Secondly, there are several teams that will go all in for a bunch sprint. For FDJ, Cofidis and Trek, it is all about making sure that we get a sprint in Tours and that’s a pretty powerful trio in a field where many teams haven’t brought their strongest line-ups. IAM also seem intent on a bunch sprint and if Giant-Alpecin miss out in the late attacks, they will be riding for a sprint too. This means that there should be plenty of interest in a bunch sprint.


Finally, there will be a headwind in the final part of the race and this will make it much harder for attackers to stay away. It makes it more difficult to cooperate in a small group and is a clear disadvantage for a solo rider. A tailwind would have made it much more likely that we would get a breakaway win.


Nonetheless, we can again expect a very aggressive finale and the final attackers will probably be caught inside the final 5km, making for a very exciting end to the classics season. Cofidis, Trek and FDJ are likely to do the majority of the work to keep the break under control during the long run in the flat terrain and we could see some attempts to split things in the crosswinds. However, the final action will play out on the final three climbs where the attacking will really start and we should be in for the usual exciting chase in the finale.


As we put our money on a sprint finish, we will put Nacer Bouhanni on top of the list of favourites. On paper, the Frenchman is the fastest rider in the race and he will be hugely motivated to end what has been a very difficult year on a high. It is a bit of a mystery how one of the best bike handlers in the peloton has managed to crash in nearly every race but that’s what has been the case for Bouhanni. He went down in the French championships at a time when his condition was excellent, he crashed out of the Tour and hit the deck several times in the Vuelta before also leaving the Spanish race. He crashed thrice in Richmond and most recently he crashed out of contention in the Tour de Vendee.


That can’t take away the fact that Bouhanni is still riding very strongly. He was quickly back on his bike after the Vuelta, was second in the bunch sprint behind attacker Fabio Felline and Tom Boonen in the GP de Fourmies and boosted his confidence for Worlds by winning the GP d’Isbergues. He rode strongly in Richmond to finish with the best despite going down three times and after crashing out in Vendee, he was second in the bunch sprint in Thursday’s Paris-Bourges.


The final climbs will be no challenge for an in-form Bouhanni who could even be strong enough to go with the attacks himself to neutralize the aggression. He is backed by a fully committed team that has lots of fast riders. Christophe Laporte, Cyril Lemoine, Florian Senechal, Kenneth Vanbilsen and Michael Van Staeyen form the best lead-out train in the race and they have Rudy Molard and U23 Worlds silver medallist Anthony Turgis for the early work.


What makes Bouhanni a safe bet is his huge consistency. He is very good at positioning himself and actually doesn’t have to rely too much on his train. This means that he is always up there. He has proved that he can handle very long races as he was up there in Milan-Sanremo and the 2014 and 2015 Worlds and he is definitely the fastest rider in this race. The lead-out was messed up in Bourges but he still managed to take second. Bouhanni has to be the favourite to win this race.


His biggest rival is probably Giacomo Nizzolo. The Italian was left frustrated in last year’s race but this year he is in a much better position. Nizzolo simply seems to be in the form of his life. He was the best Italian in Richmond where he proved his improved resistance and endurance by staying in the front group but it was his ride in Tre Valli Varesine that really caught our attention. When Nibali made his race-winning move, Nizzolo was the final rider to get dropped which speaks volumes about his form. He was even on the attack in Il Lombardia!


Most recently, Nizzolo was third in Paris-Bourges where he claimed to have been the fastest in the sprint after having had to come from too far back. That may reflect his biggest weakness. On paper, the Trek lead-out with Danny van Poppel, Jasper Stuyven and Eugenio Alafaci is very strong but things haven’t really worked out for them. Nizzolo has not got the results that his condition would suggest and he has not had the same consistency as he has had in the past where he was one of the best riders at positioning himself. Furthermore, the team still needs to find out whether they will ride for Nizzolo or van Poppel in the sprint. However, sports director Dirk Demol has done nothing to hide that the Italian is the fastest of the pair and we could see Danny van Poppel try to follow some of the attacks while Nizzolo will save himself for the sprint.


On paper, the best team for this race is undoubtedly Lotto Soudal. Tony Gallopin, Jurgen Roelandts, Tiesj Benoot and Jens Debusshere can all win this race and this gives them cards to play. They have done nothing to hide that they will use their many options by riding aggressively while Jens Debusschere will save himself for the sprint. The former Belgian champion has been in outstanding condition recently – as he always is at this time of the year. He won Omloop van het Houtland Lichtervelde and crossed the line first in Kampioenschap van Vlaanderen (where he was relegated) and most recently he won a stage in the Tour de l’Eurometropole before putting himself at Roelandts’ service. However, his best performances came in the Tour of Britain where he climbed better than ever and most notably in the Tour de Wallonie where he beat all the Ardennes specialists in a race that should have been way too hard for him.


There is no doubt that Debusschere will be strong enough to follow the attacks but he will have to ride defensively. However, he should be fresh in the finale and can rely on a formidable lead-out train if it comes down to a sprint. Gallopin and Benoot are both fast and Roelandts is one of the best lead-out men in the business. That kind of support could make the difference for Debusschere who won the bunch sprint for third 12 months ago.


Sam Bennett has repeatedly proved that he is one of the biggest sprint talents and now he is also showing signs that he can be there in the long, hard races. We were surprised how well he rode in Richmond and it is just confirmation of the signs he showed before he turned pro. Furthermore, he is still extremely fast which he proved by beating Alexander Kristoff fair and square in the Arctic Race of Norway, most of the top sprinters in the final stage of the Tour of Qatar and most recently when he beat Bouhanni, Nizzolo and Demare in Thursday’s Paris-Bourges.


The improved endurance means that Bennett is now a serious contender for a long race like this and his lead-out train has really proved its worth too. In Bourges, it was Shane Archbold who set him up for the win by riding on the front for more than a kilometre and the Kiwi is slowly developing into one of the best lead-out men. On paper, Bennett has the speed to beat everyone so if he can stay fresh and Bora-Argon 18 can again nail the lead-out, he will be a very serious contender.


Arnaud Demare has been a perennial favourite for this race for several years but he still hasn’t won the race. This year he has flown a bit under the radar as he has not had the same amount of success as he had 12 months ago when he went into the race with lots of recent wins. In general, he has not been at his best level in 2015 but he showed signs of improvement in Richmond where he rode strongly on the final climbs until he ultimately faded. It was another sign of his woes that he could only manage fourth in the Tour de Vendee despite being in a great position to do the uphill sprint.


However, Demare boosted his confidence in Paris-Bourges where he sprinted to fourth despite having a gear problem that made it impossible for him to use the 11. Furthermore, he can count on a very strong lead-out train with fast riders Lorrenzo Manzin, Kevin Reza, Marc Sarreau and trusted final lead-out man Mickael Delage. Things haven’t worked very well for that formation but on paper they have the firepower to bring Demare into a great position.


IAM go into the race with three potential sprint options in Sondre Holst Enger, Heinrich Haussler and Jonas Van Genechten. However, it looks like the latter is most likely to get the nod if it comes down to a sprint. Already last year Van Genechten proved that he has the speed to beat the fastest sprinters in the world. At IAM, he has had a harder time but now his legs have started to come around. Most recently he won a stage in the Tour de l’Eurometropole and he rode extremely well in Binche-Chimay-Binche where he was chasing all day after having missed an initial split and still had enough left to finish fourth (second in the sprint behind the two late attackers).


Van Genechten has done nothing to hide that he is in excellent condition and he has proved that he can handle the climbs. The main issue is that he usually positions himself pretty poorly. With Haussler, Enger and Roger Kluge at his side, he hopes to turn that around as there is no doubt that he has the speed to win.


If an attacker makes it, Jurgen Roelandts probably has the best chances. The Belgian was disappointed not to get selected for Worlds which was understandable as he climbed better than ever in the Canadian WorldTour races. He may no longer be in the same excellent condition but his third place in the Tour de l’Eurometropole and his strong attack in the finale in Binche-Chimay-Binche prove that he is still riding very well. There is a big chance that Lotto Soudal will have more riders in a late group that attacks in the finale and we could easily see Gallopin and Benoot sacrifice themselves to set Roelandts up for the win.


Paris-Tours is the only big classic on Greg Van Avermaet’s palmares and he will be keen to try to win the race again. There is no doubt that he will again attack in the finale and he is probably the strongest on this kind of climbs. He hasn’t raced since the Worlds as he skipped Lombardy due to jetlag but he is hugely consistent so there is no doubt that he will be in the group that escapes. As he is also fast in a sprint, he has the means to win this race again.


The same goes for Tony Gallopin. The Frenchman continues to improve and after riding with the best in the mountains in the Tour, he is now back in form. He was seventh in Richmond and again showed his improved climbing in Lombardy where he was not far off the pace of the best climbers, ultimately finishing the race in seventh. He will definitely be among the best in the finale and he has the speed to win a sprint from a small group.


Tiesj Benoot is the fourth excellent Lotto Soudal card. The Belgian has had a fantastic first pro season, most notably with his fifth place in the Tour of Flanders. However, he has showed extreme versatility as he has also been up there in hard mountain stages in the Dauphiné. He was riding really well in Canada and felt that he had the legs to do something in Richmond until a mechanical took him out of contention in the finale. He is very strong on these short climbs and his fast sprint makes him a contender from a small group.


Sep Vanmarcke was hugely disappointed not to get a protected status in Richmond. The Belgian has been very strongly in the second half of the season and has generally been one of the best in the one-day races. Most recently, he showed in good form in Binche-Chimay-Binche where he was chasing all day and still had enough left to mix it up with the attacks in the finale and lead Tom Van Asbroeck out for the sprint. He is very strong on short climbs and fast from a small group – don’t forget that he beat Tom Boonen in a sprint at the 2012 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and has finished fourth in a bunch sprint in Gent-Wevelgem.


Niki Terpstra didn’t get the result he was hoping for in Richmond but in the Vuelta he showed that the form is excellent. That was even more evident in Binche-Chimay-Binche where he made solo bid for victory with 50km to go. The move nearly paid off and there is no doubt that he will be part of the action in Sunday’s finale. Terpstra is not slow in a sprint – he won the Dutch championships in a bunch sprint – but there are many faster riders. Hence, the Dutchman probably has to escape but everyone knows that you can’t give the former Paris-Roubaix winner an inch.


If it comes down to a sprint, Etixx-QuickStep will play the card of Matteo Trentin. The Italian is in excellent condition at the moment. It all started when he won two stages in the Tour du Poitou-Charentes and he later won a brutally tough stage in the Tour of Britain. After riding the Worlds, he was second in the soaking wet GranPiemonte and would probably have won the race if he hadn’t been surprised by Jan Bakelants. Unfortunately, he is not a pure sprinter and his best chance could be to join a breakaway and then have Terpstra sacrifice him for his fast teammate.


LottoNL-Jumbo have two cards in a bunch sprint but as Moreno Hofland is far from his best, there is no doubt that their protected sprinter is Tom Van Asbroeck. The Belgian had a hard start to his time at the pro level but he has been a lot stronger in the second half of the year. The Vuelta has benefited him a lot and he put his form on show when he won the bunch sprint for third in the hard finale in Binche. It will be hard for him to beat the faster riders in a sprint but it won’t be impossible.


For once, Giant-Alpecin are without John Degenkolb in this race and this opens the door for Ramon Sinkeldam and Nikias Arndt to take their chance in a sprint finish. It is hard to say who will get the nod as they are both in great form. Arndt sprinted to third in Münsterland and won a stage in the Tour of Alberta while Sinkeldam launched a strong attack in the finale of Tuesday’s Binche-Chimay-Binche to take an impressive win in unusual fashion. Usually, Sinkeldam is the fastest of the pair and with his recent win, he should be given the protected status. With his current form, he may even be strong enough to follow the attacks – just remember how he mixed it up with the attackers in the finale of last year’s race.


Alexis Gougeard again proved that he is destined for a big future when he won the Tour de l’Eurometropole. He laid the foundations in the prologue but his performance on the climbs in the road stages was really impressive. He has obviously become a lot stronger by getting through the Vuelta and is in very good form. He will definitely try to attack in the finale but he needs to get away in a solo move as he is not fast in a sprint.


Danny van Poppel is the second Trek card. As said, we expect the team to ride for Nizzolo in a sprint but van Poppel is likely to join the attacks. If he has the form he had when he last rode at the Grand Prix Impanis, he should be strong enough to be there in the finale. He has improved a lot by getting through the Vuelta but it remains to be seen whether he still has the form. Obviously he will be very hard to beat if he is part of a small group that sprints for the win.


Finally, Christophe Laporte deserves a mention. Cofidis will be all for Bouhanni but to avoid getting on the back foot, they may try to have a rider join the breaks in the finale. Laporte will be their man as he is in excellent condition. When Bouhanni crashed in Vendee, he took over sprinting duties and he turned out to be the fastest, taking a big win in prestigious one-day race. He is very strong on short climbs as he proved with a third place in the GP de Wallonie and with his attack in the finale of the GP Plouay. Playing the Bouhanni card, he will follow wheels in the finale and he is fast enough to win a sprint from a small group.


***** Nacer Bouhanni

**** Giacomo Nizzolo, Jens Debusschere

*** Sam Bennett, Arnaud Demare, Jonas Vangenechten, Jürgen Roelandts

** Greg Van Avermaet, Tony Gallopin, Tiesj Benoot, Sep Vanmarcke, Matteo Trentin, Niki Terpstra, Tom Van Asbroeck, Ramon Sinkeldam

* Roy Jans, Raumond Kreder, Edward Theuns, Marco Marcato, Yauheni Hutarovich, Samuel Dumoulin, Matti Breschel, Sondre Holst Enger, Heinrich Haussler, Dries Devenyns, Jonathan Hivert, Yves Lampaert, Baptiste Planckaert, Jelle Wallays, Oliver Naesen, Jerome Baugnies, Reinardt van Rensburg, Gerald Ciolek, Benjamin Giraud, Cesare Benedetti, Guillaume Levarlet, Steven Tronet



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