Procycling - - Paris Tours -

It would be easy to miss Brou, un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances. It’s anony­mous and generic small town France – a quiet square with a cov­ered mar­ket, lined by cafés, a small sprawl of res­i­den­tial streets and a grand town hall, di­rectly be­hind which there’s the tall dou­ble cylin­der of a grain silo. This is ‘La France pro­fonde’ – deep, ru­ral France. Brou sits well away from the au­toroute in the tri­an­gle formed by the cities of Chartres, Le Mans and Or­léans, in a highly cul­ti­vated farm­scape which stretches lazily for many miles to the north, east and south. The Parc Na­turel Ré­gional du Perche, a bu­colic and rolling area of an­cient wood­land, pic­turesque ham­lets and hedgerows is on the north­west­ern hori­zon.

Brou is the start town of the 2017 edi­tion of Paris-Tours. It’s been years since the pelo­ton or pub­lic would coun­te­nance a race cov­er­ing the 350 or so kilo­me­tres be­tween Paris and Tours, so by ne­ces­sity the start has shifted south­west over the years. The race cur­rently has a long-stand­ing ar­range­ment with the dé­parte­ment of Eure-et-Loir, whose towns host the start, while it sen­si­bly stays on-brand with the orig­i­nal name. There was a pe­riod of rash ex­per­i­men­ta­tion dur­ing the 1970s and 1980s, dur­ing which the race’s name and the route changed – it was var­i­ously known as Blois-Chav­ille, Créteil-Chav­ille, the GP d’Au­tomne and more dur­ing that time, with the direc­tion of the race re­versed, fin­ish­ing in the Parisian sub­urbs. But now, hav­ing sur­vived the tinker­ing, it’s fixed in its orig­i­nal for­mat. In Brou, I tell Chris­tian Prud­homme, ASO’s gen­eral di­rec­tor, that I’ve been look­ing for the soul of Paris-Tours and he laughs and asks if I’ve found it yet. “There’s a cer­tain soft­ness to this re­gion of France,” he says. “You have the châteaux, the pleas­ant land­scapes and the Loire river. But you also get the wind, and a fight. That cre­ates the alchemy of this race.

“Paris-Tours is par­tic­u­lar,” he con­tin­ues. “You never know who it is made for. You’d think it was made for sprint­ers, but then it of­ten goes to the es­cape. It’s what we dream of for the flat stages of the Tour. It’s also a race which dis­cov­ers tal­ent, a ca­reer ac­cel­er­a­tor. We al­ready knew Fer­nando Gaviria was fast, but he won here last year and then won four stages at the Giro this sea­son. Greg Van Aver­maet won here [in 2011], and now he’s won the Olympic Games road race and Paris-Roubaix.

“It’s also one of the big­gest French races and one of the old­est races,” he con­tin­ues. “It dates back to 1896, so not last cen­tury, but even the one be­fore that.”

The sun is warm­ing the backs of the riders as they con­gre­gate on the start line in front of the town hall. There’s a strong field of nine WorldTour teams, all the usual sus­pects from the home coun­try, plus an am­bi­tious group of Bel­gian teams. It’s the last big race of the Euro­pean sea­son, but there’s no ques­tion of tail­ing off – Mark Cavendish, An­dré Greipel, Gaviria and Nacer Bouhanni are all here. The event’s omission from the WorldTour con­tin­ues to make cy­cling fans scratch their heads, but maybe that will change. “We have ideas and pos­si­bil­i­ties for next year,” Prud­homme says.

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