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History

Written by Wicky (2005-03-01 00:00)
Translated by Tommy Ventoux (2006-02-11 00:00:00)



Paris – Tours is a classic race with a remarkably long history. The first time this race took place was in 1896. That year the cycling magazine Paris-Vélo organises a more or less flat race of 250 kilometres challenging the riders to ride all the way from Paris to Tours.


The turn of the 19th century marks the birth of many cycling races still existing today. In those good old days, the magazines had a very creative and competitive struggle to sell more of their glossies. One of their efforts was organising cycling races. Track racing in stadiums was very popular at the time, but in search for new markets, cycling was also taken to France’s countryside gravel roads. “If the people come to the stadiums to see the riders, why not take the riders to the people?” must have been one of the arguments used.


Spending well over eight hours to get from Paris to Tours, the first victory was taken by Frenchman Eugène Prevost, beating his fellow countryman Emile Ouzou.
Showing that organising a contest like this in those days was far from easy, proves the fact that the next ten years Paris-Tours was not to be ridden again until 1906, with the exception of 1901, when Jean Fisher crossed the finish line first, only a few metres before Georges Lagou.


Overcoming the early years’ problems the race takes its annual spot on the cycling calendar from 1906 up till now, logically interrupted by the two World Wars. In 1906, the race is picked up and organised by L’Auto, a famous French newspaper, while nowadays a cycling committee known as A.S.O. is responsible for organising many road races like the Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix, Paris – Nice, as well as Paris – Tours.
During World War I the race was still organised in 1917 & 1918, but the contestants were sent the other way, from Tours to Paris. Experimentally, this was also done in 1974, while not Paris, but Versailles hosted the arrival a year later.
Referring to the season the race is being held and in search for more popularity the race was renamed “Grand Prix d’Automne”, or Autumn Classic between 1976 and 1987. During this period many changes have been made to the races’ track. Besides Tours, Blois and Créteil are used as towns of departure, while Versailles, Monthléry and Chaville are competing Paris as arrivals. After 1987 tradition and consistency returned, the race was called Paris-Tours again and so did the route, finishing on the Avenue de Grammont, right in the heart of Tours.


The lacking of any obstacles has given Paris-Tours a rather dull image. Small groups of riders trying their luck in an early breakaway, with the main group chasing them isn’t very exciting to watch, but the final part of the classic has often proved to be sparkling and nerve wrecking.
Without the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix, the mean Flemish hills in the Tour of Flandres or the steep climbs of the Ardennes in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the riders can easily hide in the main group, without hurting their legs till Tours is in sight. Besides some small hills only the october winds have caused some problems for the riders in the past.
Avoiding an image as a sprinters’ classic, the organisation added “L’Alouette”, another hill in the final kilometres in 1959. However, it was one of those days the fast sprinter Rik van Looy grabbed the victory that year, solo….



In 1965 a rather strange experiment is introduced. Allowing the riders to use only a two speed bike doesn’t make it long. Although winner Gerben Karstens wasn’t complaining about it, the organisation knew they’d lost contact with reality slightly, and tried to uplift their classic in different ways. This explains the many changes in the route during the seventies and eighties.
The “Chevreuse”, a hilly region near Tours has been introduced in the final hour of the race, but these small hills often can’t avoid a bunch sprint on the broad avenues of Tours, where the sprinters team mates are able to counter the brave attacking riders. The list of previous winners proves that this is certainly not an easy job this late in the season, which provides the race the so much wanted exciting final in a more natural way.
Lacking real obstacles, Paris-Tours still has an impressive list of winners. Maybe not as imposing as other classic races, but with famous names like both the Pellisier brothers, Briek Schotte, Rik van Looy, Francesco Moser and Joop Zoetemelk, the organisation has little to complain about.


The one-day classic between Paris and Tours has wandered a lot on the cycling calendar. Being held in springtime one year and summer or autumn the next, hasn’t given the race the required image. This all has been changed in 1951. Since then Paris-Tours has always been organised in October, giving it more and more status. The race slowly became almost as symbolic as other classics and gained a prominent place in the World Cup, nowadays Pro Tour, for good.


Frenchman Paul Mayé, Belgians Gustaaf Danneels & Guido Reybroeck and German sprint icon Erik Zabel are the record holders, all winning Paris - Tours three times on the Avenue Grammont in Tours.


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