If something seems certain, you can almost bet it will come unstuck. This is often the case in cycling, where predictions can be shattered due to an unexpected racing incident, an unpredictable venture by a young hot shot from the pack, or the total and utter routing of a reputedly untouchable favourite. Paris-Tours has built itself a reputation as a classic for sprinters, up to the point where it has become the end of the season race to run for elite finishers, a line to add on the roll of honour to enhance sprinting status. In this speciality, a royal hat-trick would involve victories on the Lungomare Italo Calvino in San Remo in March, on the Champs-Elysées one Sunday in July and on Avenue de Grammont once autumn has arrived.
However, the prospect of a massive sprint in front of Tours’ City Hall does not too often see the light of day. Over the last twenty years, break-away attackers and sprinters have chalked up an almost perfectly equal share of the spoils in terms of victories. The wind that blows across the plains of the Beauce, or the opportunity presented by the slopes before the finish, have favoured the brave such as Jacky Durand, Richard Virenque, Erik Dekker, Frédéric Guesdon or Philippe Gilbert, each in their own inimitable style, enabling them to throw a spanner in the works of sprinters’ teams. On the Paris-Tours finishing line, sometimes a smart race is worth more than raw pace.