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Paris-Tours’09: The Eternal Question Begs Asking
A sprint or a break? A break or a sprint? Every year, we ask the same question, and every year we're left scratching our heads. A race like Paris-Tours looks oh so simple for the sprinters, yet, as has been proven countless times, it absolutely isn't. As the 2009 season winds down, we get one last time to see the fast men do battle with the aggressors on one of the sport's legendary finishes: the Avenue de Grammont.

The former ProTour event has taken a step down in 2009 along with 20 fewer kilometers. The now 1.HC event shouldn't suffer from the step down though. The biggest riders are still in effect, the teams that don't want to be there aren't there, and who needs those extra 20 warm-up kilometers anyway? I can hear Ed gasping in horror in the background - it's all about the final hour of a 250k true classic, I know, but...we can make an exception just this once.

This year, the race will start in the wonderful French town of Chartres, famed for its Gothic cathedral that will most certainly make you feel quite small and earthly when you amble down its dark, imposing nave.

From the peaceful start in Chartres, it's into the fields and into the wind. Well, normally. Sunday's weather looks to be fairly settled with temperatures in the 60s and only a light wind.

If the race doesn't get a lot of this...

That doesn't mean it can't howl, but that could put a damper on the attackers since the success of the bold is largely dependent on just how hard the race has been for 200+ kilometers before. Sorry for being Captain Obvious for a moment.

...There probably won't be a lot of this in the finale.

The profile is often rumored to be flat. Sure, it's not mountainous, but flat means, well, flat, and Paris-Tours is not flat...especially the final 10 kilometers.

See - not flat.

See - especially not flat.

The rolling nature of the course coupled with the high likelihood of wind in the open fields en route to Tours usually make for a tough, selective race. Again, the real question right now is whether the wind will make an appearance or not on Sunday.

An Uncanny Streak
I'm not really a proponent of patterns to predict bike races, but even the dullest mule would admit that there appears to be some kind of pattern in effect at Paris-Tours, see if you can figure it out: 2008 break, 2007 sprint, 2006 break, 2005 sprint, 2004 break, 2003 sprint, 2002 break.

I'm a simple man, but when things are presented to me plainly, I take note. There's no mistaking it, that's a pattern. If I was a betting man, I'd put my money on a sprint this year, and if there's a sprint, one name jumps quickly to the fore right now...

Tyler Farrar
Farrar has shown a lot of promise for a good long while now, but it was only this year where his promise turned to dividends - and how they did. He has been on a tear this summer, taking wins at Vattenfall, the Vuelta, the Eneco Tour, and most recently, Franco-Belge (two stages and the overall). He has gone from a possibility to a favorite in the sprints. He has the intriguing opportunity to double up in the two sprinter's Summer classics: Vattenfall and Paris-Tours. Unibet has him as the #1 favorite.

Ed's thoughts? Well, this should speak for itself: Ed has Ј100 Sterling on Tyler Farrar to win - at 4:1. Go Garmin! Go!

Andre Greipel
Right behind Farrar on the bookies charts? Andre Greipel has won no fewer than 20 bike races in 2009. Being on the same team as Mark Cavendish, Greipel has had the privilege of never having to deal with the lightning bolt...and his results show it.

Whilst the other top sprinters have to do battle with Cav on a regular basis, Greipel gets to win everything else. With that said, that also means that his opportunities at the biggest races have been necessarily fewer. He took four stages at the Vuelta along with the points jersey, but he has to be itching to get a win in a big classic. Paris-Tours would fit the bill quite nicely, don't you think?

Tom Boonen
Boonen has been his typical enigma self this year. He was rampant for Holy Week and took another Paris-Roubaix. After that, things haven't gone quite so nicely. That whole coke issue didn't serve him well, but he did manage to get his first ever elite Belgian national road title along with some solid wins over the summer, but still, as we are all painfully aware of: nothing near what he's capable of. He's obviously still going just fine - a recent stage win at the Circuit Franco-Belge is testament to that. All things being equal, if Boonen and Farrar come to the line together after a hard race, I'd still put my money on Boonen. Can you blame me?

A Few Other Sprinters To Take Note Of
After the top three sprinters are discussed, I think you take the next step to a solid block of world class sprinters that are half a step behind the top three right now (and Mark Cavendish is half a mile up the road on everyone).

I almost feel guilty putting him here, but Oscar Freire hasn't don't too much of consequence of late. BUT, just as I hinted at with Tom Boonen, there's something to be said for a rider's pedigree. If I were Tyler Farrar, and I opened up my sprint with Oscar Freire on my wheel, I'd be scared as hell. He's still blazing fast in the right situations, but it does appear that Oscarito's best years are behind him. I'll just sit back and let him prove me wrong now.

A rider with all of his best years in front of him? Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen deserves a place amongst 2009's best. He has had the definition of a break-out season with almost innumerable wins all across the board, ranging from a solo win at Gent-Wevelgem to a small group sprint win at the Giro, to bunch sprints, to time trials. He's a force on a bike. I think he'll have a better shot at the win in a late race break, but you have to wonder if a rider like Pozzato or Gilbert will be to friendly to Boasson Hagen in a break. If he's not in a break, it'll be up to Boasson Hagen and Greipel to get it right in the finale.

My dark horse? Vacansoleil's Borut Bozic has also enjoyed a standout season where he assumed a spot amongst the world's best sprinters.

My really dark horse? Jimmy Casper.

Patterns Be Damned: Long Live The Attacker
Streaks are made to be broken, in this case, I'm ready for the even/odd nonsense to come to an end, just so I'll be able to talk about something different in 2010.

The man to break the pattern? One name is synonymous with attacking at Paris-Tours of late...

Philippe Gilbert
Philippe Gilbert has a thing for this race. I think someone once told him that it was a sprinter's race, and he didn't like that. It appears that he made it his holy quest to prove that this race is for the attacker, and after a number of tries, he proved his point last year with his first win on the Avenue de Grammont.

It's all well and good that he won it last year, but what about right now? I'm glad you asked, because right now, Gilbert is flying. He made the front group at Worlds, factored in the finale, then followed that up with the win this week at the Coppa Sabatini. There's no doubting how he's going right now. Hell, the way he's going right now, I'll be talking about him some more next week ahead of Lombardia.

Filippo Pozzato
If I have to pick favorites out of the attackers, I really can only discuss two names, two superstars: Gilbert and Pozzato.

Pozzato, like a lot of other names in this preview, has enjoyed his own breakout season as well. Sure, he had a lot of big wins before 2009, but it really seemed like Pippo started to come good on his superstar promise this year. His Classics season finally showed just how good he is, although marred a bit by a horrible habit of following Tom Boonen around - but that's the point, he was the only one that could follow Boonen when Boonen decided it was time to go hard. Remember the Koppenberg and the Taaienberg?

Pozzato had a great Spring, but it has just gotten better from there. He took his first ever elite Italian road race title (won't that be a sight in 2010: Boonen v. Pozzato, Belgian champ v. Italian champ) along with a number of one day Classics in Italy, the Giro del Veneto and the Memorial Cimurri. He's going just fine, and he already has a pedigree for upsetting the sprinters in a big time sprinters classic: Milano-Sanremo.

Don't Take My Word For It
The guys at Unibet make odds for a living...

Farrar 4.50
Greipel 5.50
Boonen 9.00
Freire 11.00
Hagen 11.00
Gilbert 12.00
Pozzato 16.00
Bonnet 25.00
Ballan 25.00
Breschel 25.00
Casper 25.00
Sanchez 35.00
Arvesen 35.00
Davis 40.00
Flecha 40.00
Nuyens 40.00
Kroon 40.00
Fernandez 50.00
Lorenzetto 50.00
Van Avermaet 50.00
Eisel 50.00
Usov 60.00
Weylandt 60.00
Roelandts 60.00
Feillu 60.00

Questions? Comments? Happy? Sad? Send me an email.

There's always the trusty if you ever get really bored.


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