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Bettini and others will keep tight rein on Paris-Tours

Richard Virenque may have surprised the field last year, but a peloton full of anxious sprinters is unlikely to allow the once-shamed climber to escape for another win in the relatively flat Paris-Tour World Cup race on Sunday. Virenque, 32, shocked the rest of the field to win last year's Paris-Tours, the penultimate race of the season-long World Cup, after an audacious breakaway in the company of feisty French compatriot Jacky Durand. Welcomed by a legion of fans who have supported him through the agonies of the Festina drugs trial two years ago, Virenque's victory had little effect in

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Last year’s escape probably won’t be repeated

By VeloNews Interactive wire services , Copyright AFP2002

Bettini is in a tight race with Museeuw for World Cup dominance.

Bettini is in a tight race with Museeuw for World Cup dominance.

Photo: AFP (file photo)

Richard Virenque may have surprised the field last year, but a peloton full of anxious sprinters is unlikely to allow the once-shamed climber to escape for another win in the relatively flat Paris-Tour World Cup race on Sunday.

Virenque, 32, shocked the rest of the field to win last year’s Paris-Tours, the penultimate race of the season-long World Cup, after an audacious breakaway in the company of feisty French compatriot Jacky Durand.

Welcomed by a legion of fans who have supported him through the agonies of the Festina drugs trial two years ago, Virenque’s victory had little effect in the standings as Dutchman Erik Dekker was practically assured of overall victory.

A tight World Cup contest means that, this time, the race – held over 257 mainly flat kilometers and where the maximum altitude reaches 200 meters – should be a more managed affair.

Only two points separate current World Cup leader Paolo Bettini (272) of Italy from the man who is considered the greatest one-day classic rider of recent times, Belgium’s ‘Lion of Flanders’ Johann Museeuw (270).

Museeuw has won two of the 10 World Cup races so far in what has been a very successful season for Italian riders, who nevertheless have failed to shine on the bigger races such as the Tour de France.

With Spaniard Igor Astarloa of the Saeco team sitting in third overall on 152 points ahead of the season-ending Tour of Lombardy, on October 19, the two-man race for the title seems to be on.

However both Museeuw and Bettini will not be alone in trying to win one of the oldest races to still feature on the circuit.

The Paris-Tours has been on the go since 1896, when it was open to amateurs, and past winners include Museeuw (1993), German Erik Zabel (1994), Ukrainian-turned-Belgian Andrei Tchmil (1997) and Italian Andrea Tafi (2000).

A look at their respective physiques speaks volumes for the kind of qualities needed to win.

Virenque may not exactly fit the bill – the five-time winner of the polka dot jersey for the Tour de France’s best climber would have been swallowed up last year had he been involved in a bunch sprint to the line.

On Sunday, a bunch sprint is the likely outcome, where powerfully-built sprinters like Zabel, Museeuw and Tafi could rub shoulders with Mapei’s world road race champion Oscar Freire, Bettini, up and coming Australian sprinter Baden Cooke of fdjeux.com or the man who makes field sprints look almost too easy, Acqua e Sapone’s Mario Cipollini.

Current World Cup standings1. Paolo Bettini (I) 272 pts2. Johan Museeuw (B) 270 3. Igor Astarloa (Sp) 1524. Michele Bartoli (I) 1425. Dario Frigo (I) 1366. George Hincapie (USA) 1247. Peter Van Petegem (B) 1218. Andrea Tafi (I) 1099. Davide Rebellin (I) 10910. Laurent Jalabert (F) 100

Recent winners of Paris-Tours1992: Hendrik Redant (B)1993: Johan Museeuw (B)1994: Erik Zabel (G)1995: Nicola Minali (I)1996: Nicola Minali (I)1997: Andrei Tchmil (Ukr)1998: Jacky Durand (F)1999: Marc Wauters (B)2000: Andrea Tafi (I)2001: Richard Virenque (F)