At a time when everybody is speaking about climbing in the Ardennes, some of the best French sprinters are ready for one of their most important battles in the spring. The relatively new race La Roue Tourangelle has quickly grown in status and with its small hills and flat roads is like a mini Paris-Tours. For the second year in a row, it will be the final event in the busiest period of the Coupe de France series, offering the fast finishers a big chance to add to their tally in the prestigious French race series.
For the international stars, the month of April is all about the classics but for many French riders, the focus is different. During the month, they face no less than six events in the Coupe de France series which is a big objective for the local teams.
Route Adelie Vitré and Paris-Camembert got things started in the beginning of the month and then it got really busy last week when the riders faced GP de Denain, Tour du Finistere and Tro-Bro Leon in just four days. The busy period will be brought to an end on Sunday when the riders tackle the relatively new event, La Roue Tourangelle.
La Roue Tourangelle was first held in 2002 as an amateur event and joined the UCI ranks in 2004. From 2005, it was a small 1.2 event but it recent years it has had a rapid growth. In 2013, it became a 1.1 race and last year it was added to the Coupe de France calendar, marking the end of the busiest time of the series. When the riders have reached the finish of Sunday’s race, they will have to wait until the end of May to get another chance to score points when they face GP Plumelec and Boucles de l’Aulne on successive days over a weekend.
It is no secret that the sprinters often have very good opportunities at the Coupe de France and the addition of La Roue Tourangelle to the calendar has done them no harm. There are a few climbs on the menu but as the race takes place in a relatively flat part of France, it suits the fast finishers. In fact, it finishes in the city of Tours and can be regarded as a small version of Paris-Tours. Since the race was upgraded to 1.1 status, two of the three editions have finished in bunch sprints, with Mickael Delage and Lorrenzo Manzin winning in 2013 and 2015 respectively. However, the sprinters can be foiled as a very selective 2014 edition proved. Back then, Angelo Tulik rode to a solo victory on a day when bad weather meant that only 55 riders reached the finish.
Last year it was not easy either and it was a relatively small field that sprinted for the win. Manzin took his first pro win, with Clement Venturini taking second and Jan Dieteren third.
The 192km will bring the riders Beaumont en Veron to the nearby city of Tours. First they do a lap of an 18km circuit that has an early climb at the 7km mark before they head into the lumpy terrain just south of starting city. Having reached the city of Parilly, they will tackle a circuit with the climbs of Cote de Parilly and Chaveignes at the 58km and 82km marks respectively before they get to the city of Chinon after 107km of racing.
From here they will head in a northwesterly direction to the finish in Tours. The terrain is by no means flat as there are several small climbs along the way. Four of those are categorized: Cote Roche Faucon (120km), Rivarennes (135km), Villandry (166km) and Cote des Carnaux (178km). The latter comes just 14km from the finish and is followed by another uncategorized ascent – then famous Cote de l’Epan which also features in Paris-Tours – and then it is a flat run to Tours. The riders will end the race by doing one lap of a 3.5km circuit that has several turns, including two successive corners inside the final kilometre. The finishing straight is 400m long.
Compared to last year, the course has been given a complete overhaul and seems to be much hillier. However, the run-in to the finish with the late climbs is unchanged.
The bad weather that is set to mar Liege-Bastogne-Liege may also have an impact on La Roue Tourangelle. Sunday will be a day with a mix of sunshine and clouds and there will be a 40% chance of rain in the afternoon. There will be a moderate wind from a northwesterly direction which means that it will mainly be a tail- or a headwind on the circuits in the early part of the race while it will be a crosswind in the final run to Tours.
Coupe de France races are always very hard to predict because they are raced very different than the big international races. The lumpy courses mean that they are usually very aggressive and races that would have been decided in bunch sprints if they had had a more international field, can be won by breakaways.
La Roue Tourangelle is no different. It has traditionally been for the sprinters but very often it has been a reduced field that has sprinted for the win. Furthermore, the race has also been won by attackers. This year a harder course means that there is a bigger chance that the strong riders will be able to prevent a sprint finish.
The weather should lend them a hand. Rain is likely to be on the menu and there will be crosswind for almost the entire second half of the race. Even though it won’t be very strong, there is little doubt that some of the big teams will try to take the initiative.
Much depends on how the biggest French teams will approach the race. This year it seems that the races have been a bit more controlled than usual and we have had more sprint finishes that we have had in the past. For this race, it seems like FDJ, Direct Energie, Wallonie and Wanty-Groupe Gobert all want a sprint finish and this means that we are likely to get a bunch kick in the end. However, the tough course and bad weather mean that we don’t expect a full peloton to be there in the end.
If it comes down to a sprint, we will put our money on Roy Jans. The Belgian started his season extremely well with several top 3 results in the Middle East where he was up against some of the best sprinters in the world. Things haven’t worked out very well in Europe but in the past he has proved that he is one of the fastest in a field like this.
Jans had to skip the GP de Denain due to illness and so he hasn’t raced since Paris-Roubaix. That makes his form a bit uncertain but usually he should find a hilly race like this to his liking. He can handle things kind of terrain and more importantly he has a great team at his side. Robin Stenuit, Tom Devriendt, Kenny Dehaes and Danilo Napolitano are all fast riders who know how to do a good lead-out and this will be important in a technical finale like this one. Hence, Jans is our favourite.
Last year Lorrenzo Manzin took his first pro win here and he will be eager to make it two in a row. FDJ have both of their young sprinters Manzin and Marc Sarreau here but as the former is the reigning winner, we expect him to get the support. After a slow start to the year, he has shown growing form and has sprinted to top 5 results in Sarthe and Denain. With Sarreau and the experienced Sebastien Chavanel at his side, he has a great lead-out and as he is one of the fastest, he could very well defend his title.
Baptiste Planckaert is enjoying a bit of a breakthrough season. With consistent top 10 results in the Coupe de France races, he has the overall lead and he will be keen to add to his haul in this race. He is in excellent form as he proved by winning the tough uphill sprint at Tour du Finistere last weekend and he rode to seventh in Tro-Bro Leon despite suffering a late puncture. He is not a man for the pure bunch sprints but likes the harder races and so he should find this race to his liking. He won’t have much team support compared to the bigger teams so he hopes for a tough race where it will be more about legs than pure speed and lead-outs.
Thomas Boudat is mostly known for his track skills but he is a very talented sprinter too. He won the hilly Clasica Corsica in his debut season and recently it was only an impressive comeback from Daniel McLay that denied him victory in the GP de Denain. He is probably the fastest rider in this field but he may come up short in such a tough race, especially as his team doesn’t look very strong.
Cofidis are likely to support cyclo-cross rider Clement Venturini who is getting better and better in the bunch sprint. He was second here in 2015 and recently he was second in Route Adelie Vitré. He has proved that he can survive the climbs and Cofidis have a pretty strong team to lead him out. Michael van Staeyen is a second option as he seems to have returned to form and did well in 3 Days of De Panne. However, he is less likely to survive the hard terrain.
Samuel Dumoulin has returned to form after his recent illness and he should try to mix it up in the sprint. However, he is usually not fast enough in a flat finale like this and needs a harder race to really excel. Roubaix are here with Rudy Barbier who was absolutely flying earlier in the year. However, he hasn’t been at the same level recently but on paper this kind of tough sprint should suit him well. Cyclo-cross rider Marcel Meisen has also proved that he can be competitive at this level and he seems to have slowly found his road condition. Yanniss Yssaad is another excellent pick as he has been sprinting consistently well throughout the year.
If Jans is not at 100%, Wanty-Groupe Gobert will support Kenny Dehaes or Danilo Napolitano. Both have done good sprints recently and will benefit from the great train that they will have at their disposal. However, Dehaes is probably the best card for a race that is likely to be pretty tough.
The list of sprinters also includes Benjamin Giraud, Boris Vallee, Maxime Daniel, Steven Tronet, David Menut, Bryan Alaphilippe, Alexis Bodiot, Gerry Druyts, Johim Ariesen, Alexander Krieger and Jan Brockhoff.
If the race becomes harder and is decided by a breakaway, we recommend you to keep an eye on riders like Olivier Pardini, Alexis Gougeard, Pierrick Fedrigo, Armindo Fonseca, Marc Fournier, Loic Chetout, Alexandre Pichot, Eduard Prades, Fabricio Ferrari, Angel Madrazo, Julien El Fares, Leonardo Duque, Frederik Backaert, Xandro Meurisse and Clement Koretzky.
***** Roy Jans
**** Lorrenzo Manzin, Baptiste Planckaert
*** Thomas Boudat, Clement Venturini, Rudy Barbier
** Samuel Dumoulin, Yanniss Yssaad, Kenny Dehaes, Danilo Napolitano, Marcel Meisen, Marc Sarreau
* Benjamin Giraud, Boris Vallee, Olivier Pardini, Alexis Gougeard, Marc Fournier, Loic Chetout, Alexandre Pichot, Eduard Prades, Fabricio Ferrari, Angel Madrazo, Julien El Fares, Leonardo Duque, Frederik Backaert
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