The trouble with Richard Virenque was, that if he was seven times King of the Mountains; he was at least eight times King of the Erses.
The Festina scandal, that mouth of his, his idiotic tactics – all conspired against him.
This meant that when he pulled off a genuine exploit, the journos and slaggers wrote it off as a fluke or; ‘he’ll be on new stuff!’
But it 2001 he pulled off a marvellous ride in Paris – Tours; he and Jacky Durand broke away after just 22 of the 254 kilometres.
Durand succumbed in the closing eight kilometres, but Virenque dug deep to win in the grand style, alone and waving a finger in the air, screaming; ‘for all those who tried to destroy me!’ whilst the greatest sprinters of the generation – Freire, Zabel, Hushovd, Petacchi, Kirsipuu, Eeckhout – : swarmed, switched, lunged and cursed as the skinny climber held them at bay.
Paris – Tours is like that, usually it’s one for the fast men; but the Virenques, Dekkers and Fred Guesdons have all had their day on the Avenue du Grammont – defying the guys with the fast twitch muscles.
The flat parcours make it hard for a small group to succeed; but a ‘do or die’ at the death can work – as it did for Gilbert, last year.
Or, if the bunch goes to sleep, then sometimes they leave the leash just a little too slack, as happened when Richard added that unlikely honour to his palmares in 2001.
The race’s place on the calendar can also contributes to its character – if ever there was a race for Mario Cipollini, this was it; but by then Mario had left the peloton for the beach.
The race favours models of consistency like Erik Zabel, who won three times.
I well remember seeing Zabel jerk his Pinarello into the big league with his 1994 win – and the man could win it 11 years later, too!
It should really be one for the Belgian sprinters, but by this time of the year, they’re too busy thinking about their spring campaigns.
It seems like an easy race to ride, pretty flat, long straight roads; but ask anyone who had ridden it and they’ll tell you that you have to concentrating 100% of the time – an echelon could form, float off the front and it’s over.
This year, the favourite is Greipel [3 to 1]; the big German has 20 wins, a good train and excellent morale, having just won Paris – Bourges in the week.
But my favourites is Tyler Farrar [4 to 1] he’s had nine wins, the Garmin train is still motivated and Tyler is a winner – I’m so confident in the man from Washington State that I’ve wagered :£:£s on him.
That should add some emotion to my Pez coverage of the race!
Just one more t’ing, sir…
And in the ‘just one more t’ing, sir’ tray, it was interesting to receive the following from VeloVeritas pal Stuart Anthony, a man who loves his six day races:
“Re. your article regarding Gabriele / doping and the knock on effect down the food chain:: Going back pre Jan Ulrich and Operacion Puerto when the Germans were in love with cycling and had forgot all about Boris Becker, the 6 day events were just what the Germans wanted for the winter months.
“We had problems getting tickets sometimes; sold out for “the big nights “.
“We were always amazed when we went on visits to the centre of Berlin and the department stores sport section, it was like an Aladdin’s cave at the cycling department, full of top of the range bikes and clothing.
“In stark contrast to our last few visits when in the same stores we found they would stock the very basics, lights, the odd maintenance tools and some very ordinary clothing…..oh, how the Germans have been turned off by one doping scandal after another.
“We have now recently lost the Stuttgart 6, the Dortmund 6 and Boxing Day meeting.
“Munich had appalling crowds last year and a warning from the organizer that the event is in severe danger; Bremen was poorly attended and closer to home and not related to doping Zuidlaren : and London events cancelled.
“I hope I am not depressing you!”
You are a wee bit, Stuart, but you’re only telling it like it is – fortunately, we’ve got Team Sky – so everything is fine!