Rabobank’s Óscar Freire became the first Spaniard to win Paris-Tours on Sunday when he outsprinted Angelo Furlan (Lampre) and Gert Steegmans (Team RadioShack).
Freire, a three-time world champion who won Milan-San Remo this year, beat Furlan in a furious finish to the 233km classic, with Steegmans two bike lengths behind.
Freire had come close here before, finishing second in 2001 and third in 2004 and 2007.
“This time, the conditions were perfect,” said Freire, alluding to losing out on the chance to be crowned a world champion for a record fourth time last week in Australia, where Norway’s Thor Hushovd won the rainbow jersey.
“In recent years I haven’t had my share of luck at Paris-Tours. I’ve never managed to join the right attacks that go all the way. That’s why I decided to stay up at the front today.”
This year’s Paris-Tours, whose finish was being held on the long home straight of the Grammont Avenue for the last time, was brought to life by an eight-man breakaway which formed after 37km, although their lead hit a maximum of just under four minutes 50km further on.
The peloton took full advantage of the favorable wind conditions and as the breakaway’s exertions took their toll the leaders gradually began to peel off the back, leaving Juan Antonio Flecha of Team Sky leading a four-man group.
Their bid came to an end 15km from the finish when they were reeled in by a four-man counter-attack.
RadioShack’s Geoffroy Lequatre tried to give the hosts a rare home win and after attacking on the climb over Beausoleil he held the chasing pack off for the next 10km.
He held a lead of 18 seconds going into the 2.6km home straight, but fell victim to the strength in numbers of the sprinters’ teams who reeled him in 400 meters from the finish.
Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) had won the race the past two years, but the Belgian, who admitted to having “highs and lows” during the race, appeared to give up all hope of a daring solo attack.
When Gilbert saw Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) on his wheel on the penultimate climb, he virtually slowed to a halt.
Afterwards Gilbert hit out at the Italian, who — as he demonstrated at the world championships road race last week — is known more for his close marking of rivals than producing attacks of his own.
“That’s the way he races. His specialty is making others lose,” said Gilbert, who won here in 2008 and 2009.
With the peloton keeping a watchful eye on the Omega Pharma ace, they ultimately allowed the race to finish in a bunch sprint.
A number of teams tried to control in the home straight but Freire proved the wiliest, jumping from wheel to wheel — notably Furlan’s in the final 100 meters — to score a memorable win.
“I was on McEwen’s wheel and he changed direction. I managed to avoid crashing but then I thought it was all over for me,” said Freire.
“But somehow I managed to get back on. It was a good sprint in the end.”
- 1. Oscar Freire (Sp), Rabobank
- 2. Angelo Furlan (I), Lampre-Farnese Vini
- 3. Gert Steegmans (B), Team RadioShack
- 4. Klaas Lodewijck (B), Topsport Vlaanderen
- 5. Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn,) Bbox Bouygues Telecom