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Will Nacer Bouhanni take his first win in the French autumn classic?

Photo: A.S.O.

PARIS - TOURS

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08.10.2016 @ 23:58 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, the 2016 edition plays a special role as it will be the big dress rehearsal for the World Championships in Qatar and by extending the distancing and removing the climbs, the organizers have done everything possible to make the race as comparable to the race in the Arabian desert as possible.

 

The climbers had their great finale last Sunday in Il Lombardia and now it is time for the sprinters to do their final big classic. Traditionally, Paris-Tours has brought the curtain down on the season for the sprinters who have relished their chance to add one of the major races to their palmares on a mostly flat course that suits them well. This year it won’t be the final race for the sprinters as the World Championships is the big goal for the fastmen and instead it will act as the big final test for many of the Worlds contenders who also get a rare chance to approach one of the biggest sprint race at a time when they are close to peak condition.

 

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. Last year, only 10 of the 17 ProTeams were on the start line, with the rest of the 24 teams being made up of pro continental and even continental teams.

 

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, THE 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 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.

 

Last year things have even got more difficult. Recently, the race has been fighting against the sprint-friendly Tour of Beijing 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. In 2015 the new Abu Dhabi Tour was created and 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 hurt 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 finished around the same time as the French race, meaning that we literally had two big bunch sprints at the same time to underline the fierce battle for the attention of the sprinters.

 

While many riders are frustrated by the later dates for the World Championships, ASO are likely to be among the select few to cherish the change. The restructure of the calendar has allowed Paris-Tours to experience a kind of revival for the 2016 edition. At a time when the race calendar is very slim, many riders are looking for opportunities to test their form in races similar to the World Championships and here Paris-Tours works perfectly. The race is held just one week before the big battle in Qatar and its combination of flat roads, long distance and often windy conditions turn it into the perfect dress rehearsal. This has had a big impact on the line-up which is by far the strongest it has been for years and this year only five WorldTour teams – Trek, Movistar, Tinkoff, Cannondale and Lampre-Merida – will skip the race.

 

At the same time, the organizers have changed the course to make it even more comparable to the race in Qatar. At 252.5km, the distanced has been increased significantly. Furthermore, the small climbs that have featured in the finale and made it hard for the sprinters in recent editions, have been removed. Instead, the race has returned to its traditional format with a much flatter finale and like in Qatar, only the wind can potentially deny the sprinters their preferred finish in a big bunch kick.

 

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 – until the organizers decided to buck the trend for 2016.

 

That being said, the sprinters have often been foiled in recent years. The approach to Tours had included 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. With the new course, the sprinters should have a much better chance in 2016.

 

Last year the attackers again managed to deny the sprinters the glory in Tours. Strong winds blew the race to pieces right from the start and it turned out to be a constant elimination race. Already at the midpoint, only a small group was left and when the attacking started on the late climbs, three riders managed to escape. In the end, Matteo Trentin, Tosh van der Sande and Greg Van Avermaet sprinted for the win but the latter was taken out of contention by a puncture in the final kilometres. Trentin managed to beat van der Sande to claim his first big classics win in what turned out to be the fastest classic ever. The Italian will be back to defend his title with an Etixx-QuickStep team that has multiple possible captains and van der Sande and Van Avermaet will both try to improve on their performance from 2015.

 

The course

In recent years, 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 recently the approach to the finish is always the same, with the riders tackling the same two climbs in the finale. The only main change has been 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.

 

As said, the 2016 edition will see a departure from this trend. The desire to turn the race into a Worlds dress rehearsal has prompted ASO to increase the distance and remove the climbs. The race will still follow its traditional pattern of a long southerly run to Tours and it will make its usual small loop around the finishing city. However, the approach to the finish will be different and the well-known climbs of Cote de Beau Soleil and Cote de l'Epan will be skipped.

 

As said, the days when the race started in Paris are long gone and this year's edition will take off from Dreux which has replaced Chartres 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 as the race has had in the past. Instead, they will start their southerly journey immediately and will even pass through the former starting city Bonneval after 69km of racing. From there, the course will be almost identical to the one that was used in 2015, with just the small changes in the finale that have removed the late climbs. The total distance has been increased from 231km to 252.5km.

 

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 have been located as the riders are led onto small, twisting roads that are mostly flat but have had a number of smaller climbs of which three have usually played a key role.

 

In 2016, only one of these climbs will be tackled. The small Cote de Crochu comes 25.5km 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 have always been the Cote de Beau Soleil and Cote de l'Epan that have been located 9.5km and 7km from the finish respectively. Those will both be skipped and instead the final 25km will be almost entirely flat as the riders head back towards the centre of Tours.

 

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 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 2016 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 and last year they went even faster as Trentin reached Tours after a day with an average speed of a blistering 49.642km/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 have usually been 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 and the same happened in last year’s edition. The two final climbs were the launch pads for Philippe Gilbert’s wins when he took back-to-back victories in 2008 and 2009. This year things will be different and everything will depend on the weather. If the wind fails to split the field, the race is likely to shape up like a classic sprint stage in a grand tour.

 

 

 

 

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 will have the right direction but as it won’t be very strong, it is unlikely to have a major impant.

 

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 2016. Sunday will start out cloudy but will end with bright sunshine and 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 light wind from an easterly direction which means that the riders will have a crosswind for most of the day as they travel towards the south. In the final 50km, they will turn into a tailwind and a cross-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 flat parcours 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 many 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. 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 has been harder for the riders to maintain their condition. Even if 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 five latest editions and two of the eight latest editions have been decided in bunch sprints.

 

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 things are likely to be completely different in 2016. The distance may be longer but the lack of climbs in the finale means that there is no longer a perfect springboard for a late attack. Furthermore, the conditions will be very nice and even though it will be a crosswind almost all day, it will be a surprise if he creates any splits. It will even be a headwind in the final few kilometres. 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.

 

However, the most important factor to suggest a bunch sprint is the high level of the field. This year the status as a Worlds dress rehearsal means that there are a lot more top sprinters at the start – just like in the good old days before the calendar change. Furthermore, they are all close to 100% as they are gearing up for the Worlds so the level will simply be much higher and there will be a lot more firepower to control the race.

 

Finally, there are several teams that will go all in for a bunch sprint. For Lotto Soudal, Cofidis, FDJ, Sky, Bora-Argon 18 and maybe Dimension Data – everything will depend on whether Cavendish will do the race - it is all about making sure that we get a sprint in Tours and that’s a pretty powerful group of teams. Of course BMC will do their best to blow the race to pieces and the strong Etixx-QuickStep team is likely to go on the attack too but it won’t be easy to prevent a bunch sprint in this kind of weather and in such a flat finale. We are bound to see the usual late attacks, especially on the Cote de Crochu and in some of the exposed sections – Greg Van Avermaet has to give it a go on the climb – and there may be some small splits in the crosswind but we expect a pretty big field to sprint for the win.

 

As we put our money on a sprint finish, we will put Nacer Bouhanni on top of the list of favourites. The Frenchman has proved to be in great form for the World Championships, most recently with his win at the Tour de Vendee where he was in a class of his own in the uphill sprint. After his hotel altercation before the Tour de France, he had a hard time when he returned to racing in August but slowly he has built his form and now he seems to be close to his peak. Already at the EuroEyes Cyclassics, he was sprinting very well and now he seems to have added the strength that will make him competitive over longer distances and in harder races. In the Eneco Tour, he was sprinting solidly and even though he failed to win a stage, he and Peter Sagan were the only riders to consistently be up there in the bunch sprints.

 

Bouhanni is more than a pure sprinter and suited to hard races. His classics palmares are meagre but that is more due to a lack of one-day racing during the years at FDJ. This year it was only a mechanical that prevented him from sprinting for the win at Milan-Sanremo (he still finished fourth) and in 2014 he was up thee in the World Championships. The long distance won’t be a major problem for Bouhanni.

 

Importantly, Bouhanni is backed by one of the strongest teams and he has a great lead-out. The combination Soupe-Laporte-Bouhanni has not always done everything perfectly this year but in Vendeee they really nailed the lead-out. The trio seem to be on great form and was also on track for a great result in Paris-Bourges until an incident in the final turn took Bouhanni out of contention. On paper, Mark Cavendish, André Greipel and Fernando Gaviria are faster than Bouhanni but he is not far behind. With the Manxman suffering from illness, the German unlikely to take too many risks and the Colombian uncertain about his captaincy role, we doubt that they will be able to match an in-form Bouhanni whose excellent positioning skills make him an almost guaranteed podium bet. However, we think he will get even more than that and emerge as the winner of the race.

 

For André Greipel, this is the final test before the Worlds and we are very curious to see how he will handle it. The German has done several races recently but he hasn’t had much success. In the Eneco Tour, he proved that his form is great as he rode very strongly in the tough final stage but he didn’t have much luck in the sprint – apart from his second place in stage 4. Last Monday he was taken out of contention by a late crash at the Münsterland Giro as he clearly opted for safety on the slippery roads.

 

There is little doubt that Greipel would love to win this race. Surprisingly, it has taken some time for him to get the ball rolling in the classics and it is only in the last few years that he has managed to win major one-day races like Vattenfall Cyclassics and Brussels Cycling Classic. He is brutally strong but for some reason he seems to have suffered a bit in the very long races. He seems to have bucked that trend and there is little doubt that he should be very competitive in a race like this.

 

We have no doubt that Greipel has the form and speed to win but we doubt that he will take many risks. He didn’t do so in the Eneco Tour and in Münster and he won’t do so in Tours either. On the other hand, there is still some uncertainty about the captaincy role in the German team for the Worlds and to fully confirm the leadership that he has been officially given, a win in Tours would be very important. He is backed by the formidable train of Sieberg-Roelandts-Debusschere which on paper is the best in the race. Greipel has all the cards to win the race. The question is whether he will take the necessary risks.

 

Etixx-QuickStep have a formidable team with two potential sprinters. Tom Boonen and Fernando Gaviria have been doing a couple of races together this week and every time Boonen has been given the chance to do the sprint. Both are ready to lead their respective nations at the Worlds and would love to get a final chance to test their legs so it won’t be easy to make a decision about the captaincy role.

 

In the Tour de l’Eurometropole and Binche-Chimay-Binche, we were pretty convinced that the team would be riding for Boonen as he hadn’t had a lot of opportunities recently but in this race things are less clear. Boonen has done two sprints without much success and he seems to be far from his best form. Gaviria has been riding very aggressively and his win at Primus Classic and second place in GranPiemonte is a confirmation of his excellent form. On paper, he is faster than Boonen and the only one with the speed to challenge the like of Bouhanni and Greipel. To win the race, the team will have to go for their Colombian. We are not sure that they will but if they do, they have a solid chance.

 

Gaviria has shown that he has the speed to beat everybody and at Milan-Sanremo he proved that he can handle the long distances. In the last few races, he has been very aggressive which has cost some speed in the end but if he focuses fully on the bunch sprint, he can win this race. With Boonen, Gianni Meersman, Matteo Trentin, Fabio Sabatini and Maximilano Richeze at his side, he has one of the two best trains in the race. If Etixx-QuickStep go for their Colombian, Gaviria can definitely win this race.

 

The big question mark in this race is Mark Cavendish. On paper, he is of course one of the fastest riders in the race but the Manxman has had a terrible preparation. He climbed really well at the Giro della Toscana which indicated that he was on form for Qatar but since then everything has gone wrong. He was set back by a stomach infection at the GP Beghelli which he had to abandon and since then he had six days off the bike. He has lost a lot of weight and also had to skip the Münsterland Giro and Paris-Bourges for which he had already booked his flights. At the time of writing, it is still uncertain whether he will actually do this race.

 

However, Cavendish can still not be ruled out. The nice weather means that the race won’t be too difficult and even though the distance will take its toll, the Brit should have a relatively straightforward ride for most of the day. If that’s the case, he should still be relatively fresh in the finale and then the speed will make the difference. When it comes to sprinting skills, the Brit is pretty hard to beat as he proved in the Tour de France and he will be backed by a solid team. He is a master when it comes to positioning which makes his very consistent. His form is a big question mark but history shows that you can never rule Cavendish out from a bunch sprint like this.

 

Another question mark is Elia Viviani. On paper, the Italian is one of the fastest riders here. He has proved that he can beat all best sprinters in the world and this kind of sprint suits him really well. However, he hasn’t shown much form since the Olympics and his transition back to the road seems to have been more difficult than he would have liked. Furthermore, he doesn’t belong to the strongest guys in the peloton and the distance is likely to take its toll. On the other hand, he is one of the leaders of the Italian team for the World Championships and this is his chance to prove himself in the rivalry with Giacomo Nizzolo. The good weather could turn it into a relatively easy race and if that’s the case, Viviani has the speed to win here.

 

Caleb Ewan got his first big classics win at EuroEyes Cyclassics and so gave the full confirmation that he can sprint at the end of a long race. Like Viviani, he is still not the strongest sprinter but with the good weather, this race could turn out to be easier than the one in Hamburg. He started the year very strongly but a poor spring saw him slip down the sprinting hierarchy. His win in Germany and his dominant performance in the final stage of the Tour of Britain are clear indications that he is back on track. He is backed by an excellent team that includes the likes of Luka Mezgec, Magnus Cort and Jens Keukeleire but the Eneco Tour also revealed that he still misses something when it comes to positioning in the very hectic bunch sprints. Ewan has the speed to beat everybody but the question is whether he will be fresh enough after such a long race and will be able to get into a decent position to make use of his impressive speed.

 

After a difficult Tour de France and Arctic Race, Sam Bennett was absolutely flying earlier this month when he beat Cavendish twice and climbed excellently at the Giro della Toscana. The Irishman had suddenly established himself as a Worlds outsider but like Cavendish, he has had a bad time since then. He has been suffering from bronchitis which forced him to skip the GP Beghelli and Münsterland Giro and so his form was a bit of an unknown for Paris-Bourges. However, he surprised himself by defending his win in the traditional warm-up race and so showed that he is back on track. This race is of course at a different level and will be much harder to win but Bennett has proved that he is sprinting at a very high level. The Bora-Argon 18 train is constantly improving but Bennett has a bad habit of getting lost in the hectic finales. If he can stay with his teammates, he has the form to win here.

 

Arnaud Demare may have won Milan-Sanremo but apart from that big win, he has had a bad year. However, he has been riding very well since July as he has proved to be climbing excellently. Unfortunately, he has not been sprinting at the same level and he has clearly not had the speed to match the fastest riders. Hence, it is no surprise that he finally managed to break the drought in Binche-Chimay-Binche whose tough finale was a race for puncheurs and not for pure sprinters. Demare clearly has the form to be competitive and the long distance suits him. Furthermore, he is backed by a very strong FDJ team and in the Eneco Tour they showed that they now have the firepower to match the best trains. We doubt that Demare has the speed to win an easy race but if it becomes harder, the in-form Frenchman will be competitive.

 

As said, Etixx-QuickStep may go for Tom Boonen. On paper, many riders are faster than the big Belgian but he has a few aces up his sleeves. First of all, the distance is a big advantage for Boonen who has proved to be one of the best sprinters at the end of a long, hard race. Secondly, the Etixx-QuickStep train is one of the two best lead-outs in the race so if he gets the chance, Boonen should be able to start his sprint in a good position. Unfortunately, the Tour de l’Eurometropole and Binche-Chimay-Binche indicated that his form is not at 100%. On the other hand, his sprints at the RideLondon Classic and the Brussels Cycling Classic showed that he still has the speed to beat almost everyone so with a good lead-out, another Boonen win cannot be ruled out.

 

Katusha will be riding for Alexander Porsev who will be the Russian captain at the World Championships. The Russian returned to his best in the Giro where he was one of the most consistent sprinters which was a nice confirmation of the potential he proved a few years ago. He showed good form in Tour des Fjords where he worked for Kristoff and he did a very good work for Kristoff in the Eneco Tour after sprinting to a top 10 in the GP Impanis. Most recently, he initially made the selection in the hard Tour de l’Eurometropole and he finished second behind Bennett in Paris-Bourges. With Marco Haller and Jacopo Guarnieri, he is supported by a big part of Kristoff’s lead-out train and they really nailed the lead-out in Bourges. If Guarnieri can do what one his textbook lead-outs, Porsev can win this race even though he is not the fastest rider.

 

LottoNL-Jumbo have to decide whether to go for Moreno Hofland or Tom Van Asbroeck. Both have been in great form recently even though the results don’t really show it. Usually, Hofland is above Van Asbroeck in the hierarchy and there is no doubt that the Dutchman is their best card. Unfortunately, he was set back by stomach problems in Binche where he had to abandon so it remains to be seen how he has recovered. However, he has been sprinting very well this year, most notably at the Giro. Furthermore, the LottoNL-Jumbo train has improved a lot and he is one of the sprinters who can cope with the distance. It will be difficult to win the race but Hofland definitely has the speed to be on the podium.

 

Dan McLay has had a breakthrough season. He impressed the entire world with his excellent sprint at the GP de Denain and at the Tour de France he showed that he can be competitive at the highest level too. He showed good form in the Tour of Britain and recently finished fourth in Isbergues. He is building form for the Worlds and so should be even better now. In Bourges, he claimed to have super legs but he was taken out of contention by the incident in the final turn. In the classics and in Britain he showed that he can be up there in hard races but the long distance could take its toll on the Brit. He usually suffers in the fight for position and this will be the big challenge in this stacked field of sprinters.

 

Bryan Coquard is motivated to prove national coach Bernard Borreau wrong in his decision not to select him for the Worlds. However, the Direct Energie rider has been riding poorly since the Tour and he is far from his best form. That was evident in Binche-Chimay-Binche where he was nowhere to be seen in a race that suited him well and even though he was third in Vendee, he was not even close to Bouhanni. In Bourges, he was on Bouhanni’s wheel but both were taken out of contention in the final turn. However, he has proved that he has the speed to match Bouhanni whom be beat several times in Dunkirk earlier this year and he should benefit from the long distance. Adrien Petit seems to be riding really well at the moment and if he can do one of his best lead-outs, Coquard could still be up there.

 

Finally, the in-form Roy Jans deserves a mention. The Belgian got the year off to a great start but then health issues ruined his season. Recently, he has returned to form and he has been sprinting consistently well. Last Monday, he was second behind Degenkolb in Münster and he will be motivated to end his year on a high and benefit maximally from his excellent form. Unfortunately, he is without most of the Wanty lead-out train and even though his form is great, he may lack the speed to win the race.

 

UPDATE: André Greipel will skip the race and instead Lotto Soudal will support Jens Debusschere in a sprint finish

 

***** Nacer Bouhanni

**** Fernando Gaviria, Mark Cavendish,

*** Elia Viviani, Caleb Ewan, Sam Bennett

** Arnaud Demare, Tom Boonen, Jens Debusschere, Alexander Porsev, Moreno Hofland, Daniel McLay, Bryan Coquard, Roy Jans

* Andrea Guardini, Matteo Trentin, Romain Feillu, Jonas Van Genechten, Greg Van Avermaet, Oliver Naesen, Jurgen Roelandts, Jens Keukeleire, Zdenek Stybar, Magnus Cort, Tom Van Asbroeck, Raymond Kreder, Kristian Sbaragli, Amaury Capiot, Zico Waeytens, Max Walscheid

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