One of the most historic races in professional cycling, Paris – Tours has long been one of the final contests to bring the curtain down upon another year of racing and specifically stands as a final opportunity for the peloton’s sprinters to secure glory before winter calls time on another season. Somewhat altered in 2016 due to the anticipation of the oncoming World Championships, this year’s course has removed the usual decisive late hills and also added around an extra 20km of racing; both as an attempt to liken it to the demands of Doha’s contest to crown this year’s World Champion. As a result of these changes, the quality of sprinters at Paris – Tours this year has increased greatly, promising a thrilling showdown amongst some of the fastest men on two wheels before the big day in Qatar. For the challenge at hand, the riders will travel a total of 252.5km from Dreux to Tours, a relatively tame passage which should prove easy enough to control for 2016’s peloton, thanks to a much stronger field of bunch sprint focused teams. Attacks from breakaway hopefuls are bound to occur once the peloton near the finish with 30km – 50km still remaining, but the likelihood is that we will see a hotly contested sprint in Tours, as some of cycling’s most talented fast-men duke it out for glory and a glimpse as to the future of 2016’s rainbow bands.
Fernando Gaviria is part of a formidable Etixx – QuickStep team which boasts Tom Boonen, Zdeněk Štybar and last year’s winner Matteo Trentin. There are certainly questions regarding who exactly they shall back for the win today, but given Gaviria’s superior speed and encouraging form, he should be their ideal candidate to contest race honours here. He has proven able to handle such distances well and few teams will be able to match either the firepower or experience at his disposal if given the nod to lead the team today.
Nacer Bouhanni should be one of the fastest men left in contention as the race reaches Tours, possessing a leadout train which can deliver him perfectly into position, though this has proven inconsistent during the season. His performance at Milan – San Remo earlier in the year demonstrated his ability to cope with long races and he arrives here off the back of several great showings in recent weeks; Bouhanni may well prove to be the man to beat late on.
Arnaud Démare took victory at Binche – Chimay – Binche with an extremely powerful sprint which he initiated far ahead of where any of his rivals would have expected him to do so. Such a move secured him victory, but also demonstrated that the Frenchman is both in great strength and extremely confident heading into this penultimate race before the World Championships. Victory at Milan – San Remo in the Spring reminded people of just how strong Démare is, though it will be tough for today’s race to reflect a similarly attritional contest despite being 252.5km long; unless the day’s crosswinds prove more severe than expected. His team FDJ will commit everything to ensuring a bunch sprint and have grown to become a surprise package in the leadout battle in recent months, promising Démare a great chance of another late season victory.
Caleb Ewan is potentially the fast sprinter at this year’s edition and has enjoyed a good level of consistent form at the end of this summer, but his recent appearance at the Eneco tour was certainly less inspiring. A simple drag race would make Ewan the favourite here, instead he has to contend with numerous talented sprinters and their attempts to get a better run at the finish line than him. Though his Orica – GreenEDGE leadout is strong, it has suffered from inconsistency throughout the year and has seen Ewan lost when positioning proves the difference between a win or a passing mention in the race results.
Elia Viviani will view today as an ideal chance to stamp his authority upon the Italian World Championship team ahead of compatriot Giacomo Nizzolo with a good performance in Tours. Certainly one of the fastest at this year’s race, Viviani will need Team Sky to be running smoothly if he is to have much hope of surviving the 252.5km in good enough condition to threaten the greater favourites.
Other names worth keeping an eye upon are Tom Boonen, Mark Cavendish, Sam Bennett, Jens Debusschere and Dan McLay.
1st Arnaud Démare 2nd Fernando Gaviria 3rd Nacer Bouhanni