What's Cool In Road Cycling

Paris-Tours 2008: Sprinters Foiled Again!

Race report: Once again, the big-name fast men miss out at Paris-Tours as a Belgian spring classics specialist gets a huge helping hand from a hard-working team-mate. The race turned into a cracker over the last 20kms as the peloton struggled to maintain order over a host of breakaway attempts.

What a finish! Phillipe Gilbert takes a brilliantly timed Classic win as a five-man breakaway aces the peloton. Gilbert persevered in his attempt to get up to a four-strong breakaway, while Pippo Pozzato opted not to tow Oscar Freire over.

They say fortune favors the brave – it worked out for Gilbert this afternoon, with a well-deserved win for one of the sport’s ‘clean’ riders.

Background: Ask anyone, and I mean anyone, about Paris-Tours and they’ll tell you it’s a day out for the sprinters, but they’ve been foiled a fair few times!

Frederic Guesdon bested Kurt-Asle Arvesen in a two-up sprint in 2006. Famously (or notoriously?) Tricky Dicky Virenque cemented his post-confession comeback with an epic long-range breakaway win in 2001. In fact, the only true sprint winners since 1996 were Ale-Jet Petacchi last year, and Zabel in 2003 and 2005.

At the coal face: Four musketeers set out after only 7kms this morning – blue skies and sunshine today, so ideal for a long-break! Garmin-Chipotle’s Lucas Euser took off into the unknown along with Tom Veelers from Skil-Shimano, Cyril Lemoine (giving Credit Agricole some last-gasp publicity) and Landbouwkrediet’s Sebastian Delfosse.

They built a three-minutes plus lead, before Dave Zabriskie (skinsuited up!) decided to show everyone exactly how good he is on his own against the road – it took him less than 20kms to go across the gap. Impressive stuff.

The peloton eventually decided enough was enough once the escapees were a snip over 11 minutes clear – Rabobank, Silence-Lotto and Liquigas all had top sprinters wanting the win so they bent their backs to the task.

QuickStep also gave a bit of a hand for Tom Boonen, and Milram lurked in the background for Erik Zabel’s final professional road race.

73kms to go and the peloton is closing to 3’30”, but in no desperate hurry to make the actual catch. 38kms left and the five are still clear, but the peloton is tightening the vice – one minute 30 seconds.

Zabriskie’s feeling frisky and tries to jump away but he’s closed down by his breakaway colleagues. In the peloton, the traffic island on one particular left-hander is treated with contempt as some of the backmarkers just ride straight over the top of it. Asking for trouble, as a crash even now could compromise preparations for next season.

The leading five hit a short sharp climb with about 25kms to go – Lemoine stamps on the accelerator. Veelers is on him straight away, Delfosse and Dave Z grind up to him and Euser dangles.

It’s the beginning of the end for this break – Lemoine goes solo and the others are toasted.

Voeckler and Tjallingi jump away as the main field tries to ride en-bloc, to stop anyone else getting away. Tommy V and Tjallingi tow another six or seven guys up to Lemoine. QuickStep have to come forward and keep the break in check with the 20kms to go banner looming.

19kms to go and who’s that hammering up to the leaders? Tom Boonen? The QuickStep chief flies across the gap then imperiously sits up to survey the damage.

15kms to go and the peloton has shrunk dramatically as a result of Jos van Emden inadvertently blocking the road with a sore-looking tumble.

Then a significant break gets a gap, upwards of 20 seconds: it’s Sebastian Turgot (Bouygues Telecom), Mickael Delage of Francaise des Jeux, Landbouwkrediet’s Jan Kuyckx and French champ Nicolas Vogondy.

Kuyckx is in front with the pedal down on the Cote de l’Epan – one of the little bumps which could take the sting out of the sprinters’ legs. Vogondy looked very smooth as the other guys seemed to struggle a bit.

Cote de Pont Volant with 6kms to go and there’s only 12 seconds between break and peloton. Pozzato hits the front of the group and drags Gilbert with him – but also Freire so he sits up

4kms to go and the break hits the Cote de Petit Pans d’Ano – Gilbert gets across. It’s game on!

2kms to go and it’s still five against the peloton, on one of the longest finishing straights in the business. Francaise des Jeux have Delage going to the maximum for Gilbert, but the peloton can see them all the way. The gap is coming down in slices: 12 seconds, 9 seconds, 6 seconds …

500 metres to go and Gilbert is looking cool as he flies up the Avenue de Grammont in Delage’s slipstream, with Turgot, Kuyckx and Vogondy.

The view down the long, looong finishing straight shows the surviving peloton members screaming towards them. Gilbert waits, waits, waits …. then jumps with 300 metres to go as Delage swings out of his way.

The peloton is almost on them. Gilbert goes dead straight up the centre of the road and takes it by a bike-length. Kuyckx puts his pro Continental team on a Classic podium and Turgot gets third.

Fantastic stuff from Gilbert and Francaise des Jeux have a nice present from their departing star. Also departing is Erik Zabel with another honorable top-ten placing. He goes with his head held high.

Tune in to tomorrow’s Eurotrash for all the reaction to Paris-Tours, and keep it Pez as we build up to the Giro di Lombardia to round out the season!

102nd Paris-Tours, 252kms
1 Phillipe Gilbert (Bel) Francaise des Jeux 5hrs 47’ 43”
2 Jan Kuyckx (Bel) Landbouwkrediet
3 Sebastian Turgot (Fra) Bouygues Telecom
4 Nicolas Vogondy (Fra) Agritubel same time
5 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Chipotle + 4”
6 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Silence-Lotto
7 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram
8 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas
9 Kristof Goddaert (Bel) Topsport Vaanderen
10 Tom Boonen (Bel) QuickStep all same time

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