Procycling - - Paris Tours -

Cé­dric Coutouly’s ca­reer as a cyclist was a good, not a great one. He came through the Crédit Agri­cole Espoirs sys­tem, but wasn’t picked up by the pro­fes­sional team, spent a year as an elite se­nior, then man­aged to get a spot on the Agritubel squad in 2005. Four years with Agritubel were fol­lowed by two with Saur-So­ja­sun, then re­tire­ment at the age of 30.

There are two ques­tions the lay­man asks the pro­fes­sional cyclist. Did you ride the Tour de France? Did you win a race? To which Coutouly’s answers are yes, and no. He rode the Tour in 2006, where he fin­ished in the top 100 on one stage and 133rd over­all. He may never have won a race, but came heart­break­ingly close – four sec­ond places, in Tro-Bro Léon, Paris-Camem­bert and two stages of the Tour du Li­mousin. You could de­scribe Coutouly as the ar­che­typal jour­ney­man pro, though he didn’t have the team-hop­ping ca­reer longevity of many of his peers.

“I had a de­cent ca­reer as a pro. It was a nice job, and I en­joyed mak­ing my pas­sion my job. It’s what any­body would want to do,” the now 37-year-old French­man says.

On re­tire­ment, Coutouly spent a year find­ing his feet. He did some driv­ing for VIPs at bike races, in­clud­ing for ASO, then joined ASO’s race direc­tion in Fe­bru­ary 2012. Af­ter hav­ing grown up in Albi, in the south, and spent his cy­cling ca­reer liv­ing there as well, he moved to Paris. Now he’s the as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of Paris-Tours, work­ing with the race di­rec­tor François Le­marc­hand. “ASO or­gan­ise a lot of races so there are a lot of us work­ing in the area of com­pe­ti­tions. I took on Paris-Tours, but I work across sev­eral races,” he says.

Coutouly can draw on his own ex­pe­ri­ence of the race from his days as a pro­fes­sional – he took part in Paris-Tours four times, fin­ish­ing it on all but one oc­ca­sion. “I have good and bad mem­o­ries. Some years there was so much wind. One year I climbed off at the feed, got into the bus and it was al­ready full,” he laughs. “For me, this is the Clas­sic of the fall­ing leaves, of wind, au­tumn and a sprint. But there is also sus­pense in the fi­nale,” he con­tin­ues. “It’s a flat race, per­haps, but when you look at the win­ners, you see a lot of puncheurs on the list. Riders like Greg Van Aver­maet and Philippe Gil­bert have man­aged to counter the threat of the sprint­ers.

“Weather also plays a part. With a tail­wind you get a re­ally fast race, or you can have ech­e­lons af­ter 50 kilo­me­tres. The im­por­tant thing is that we want the most wor­thy win­ner and the most beau­ti­ful race. We want to give the riders a nice book, but they are the ones who have to write an in­ter­est­ing story.”

How does Coutouly main­tain the race’s links to its long his­tory while still de­vel­op­ing in the mod­ern era and re­main­ing rel­e­vant?

“Do you re­ally need to evolve a Clas­sic? The strength of th­ese events is their iden­tity. We can change the par­cours, but what makes Paris-Roubaix or Mi­lan-San Remo is their his­tory. We’ve had 111 edi­tions of Paris-Tours. We think of the fu­ture, but we will al­ways keep the roots, and re­mem­ber that the roots of the race are older than us.”

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