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A look ahead: Opportunities for opportunists

Tom Boonen may have won this Tour’s first ferocious sprint on Sunday, but don’t expect the tall Belgian to continue winning stages this week in the manner perfected by Mario Cipollini in the 1990s and Alessandro Petacchi in more recent years. That’s because Boonen won the stage into Les Essarts despite not having an organized lead-out train. The team that did its best to set up a strong paceline on the run-in was Baden Cooke’s Française des Jeux squad; but the French team’s efforts fell far short of guiding Cooke into a winning position. The twisting run-in and a sharp left turn into a

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By John Wilcockson

Photo: Graham Watson

Tom Boonen may have won this Tour’s first ferocious sprint on Sunday, but don’t expect the tall Belgian to continue winning stages this week in the manner perfected by Mario Cipollini in the 1990s and Alessandro Petacchi in more recent years. That’s because Boonen won the stage into Les Essarts despite not having an organized lead-out train.

The team that did its best to set up a strong paceline on the run-in was Baden Cooke’s Française des Jeux squad; but the French team’s efforts fell far short of guiding Cooke into a winning position. The twisting run-in and a sharp left turn into a roller-coaster finish straight further complicated matters. After a strong lead-in (rather than lead-out) from his Italian-American teammate Guido Trenti, Boonen ended up freelancing his sprint against the scrappy Australians Cooke, Robbie McEwen, Stuart O’Grady and Allan Davis.

Watch for these same riders to be contesting the finish in Tours on Monday afternoon, along with South African Robbie Hunter, Brazilian Luciano Pagliarini and Estonian Jaan Kirsipuu. Unlike Sunday’s tight finish in Les Essarts, Monday’s will be along the dead-straight 3km Avenue de Grammont Boulevard, which hosts the finish of the Paris-Tours classic finish every fall.

Most of this fairly long (212.5km) stage is on the back roads of the Vendée region before heading northeast into the Loire Valley. The race passes some of the region’s famed châteaux, including the 11th century Chinon and 16th century Azay-le-Rideau. The final 30km are full of twists and turns until reaching the long, straight run-in to Tours.

Despite its permanent place in classics’ history, Tours has seen only six Tour stage finishes. The last was in 2000 when Dutchman Leon Van Bon, the current Dutch champion, brought home a small breakaway group, while Italian Alberto Elli took over the yellow jersey from Jalabert.

While America’s Dave Zabriskie should again keep his yellow jersey, Frenchman Thomas Voeckler will have problems hanging onto the polka-dot KoM jersey he earned Sunday. Breakaways will be hard to control on stage 2’s three Cat. 4 climbs, but what is sure to be a near-record pace (50 kph?) should finally neutralize the attacks and result in a mass sprint finish.

Neither Petacchi nor Erik Zabel — the sprinters who fought out the last Paris-Tours to end in a field sprint(in 2003) — are present at the Tour. On Monday, Petacchi will be scouting the course for September’s world championships in Madrid, while Zabel was not chosen by T-Mobile this year. In their absence, Boonen and company should provide some more excellent entertainment.