By Jeff Jones, online editor
Andrea Tafi (Mapei-Quick Step) proved that he still had plenty of fire
in his legs as he won a tough 94th edition of Paris-Tours, the ninth round of the World Cup. Tafi attacked with 20 kilometres
to go to beat the evergreen Andrei Tchmil and Daniele Nardello, with Tchmil gaining enough points to be in good contention
for the World Cup, not to mention the World Championships next weekend.
The race was marked by windy and rainy conditions, and the 188 riders
were in no mood to hammer out of the blocks in pursuit of a high average speed. The early attack came from Sylvain Chavanel
(Bonjour) and Mindaugas Goncaras (Saint-Quentin) and they were allowed a lot of rope, gaining 30 minutes after 120 kilometres
in front. Chavanel dropped his companion shortly afterward in Savigny-sur-Braye (134 km to go) and held his massive advantage
for another 25 kilometres.
Finally, the lethargic peloton stirred, and the young Chavanel found his
lead rapidly shrinking. In 20 kilometres he lost 10 minutes after some serious chasing was being done by a 13 rider selection.
This contained Rik Verbrugghe and Andrei Tchmil (Lotto), Paolo Bettini, Andrea Tafi and Daniele Nardello (Mapei), Nico Mattan
(Cofidis), Rolf Sorenson (Rabobank), Jaan Kirsipuu (Ag2r), Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa), Zbigniew Spruch (Lampre), Gorazd Stangelj
(Liquigas), and World Cup leader Erik Zabel (Telekom). By the 200th kilometre, Tafi, Mattan and Verbrugghe had attacked from
this top group and were just 4'15 behind the fading Frenchman, with the bulk of the pack a further 1'40 back.
The trio caught Chavanel with 32 kilometres to go, and that was the end
of a brave attempt. Had the 21 year old ridden in the 188.5 km Espoirs race, he may have had more success. That was won by
Belgian Tom Boonen (Kortrijk) who edged out rising Swede, Stefan Adamsson (Crescent/Swedish National) and Ronald Mutsaars
(Rabobank Espoirs) after a group of 7 made it to the finish.
The pro's were now going full steam ahead, and Tchmil, Daniele Nardello,
Gorazd Stangelj and Paolo Bettini attacked what was left of the Zabel group. This left Zabel chasing with 25 kilometres to
go and the seven leaders had the race in their sights.
With 20 kilometres to go, Tafi attacked Verbrugghe and Mattan before the
other four caught on, and by the time they did, he had a lead that grew to a minute with 14 kilometres to go. As he did in
Paris-Roubaix in 1999, Tafi kept his advantage into Tours' Avenue de Grammont, taking his fourth ever win in a Classic.
Meanwhile amongst the chasing group, Andrei Tchmil powered away with less
than 10 kilometres to go, and only Mapei's Daniele Nardello could go with him. Tchmil was going for World Cup points and he
needed to score well in this race if he was to have any chance at Zabel's lead. The German was still in the hunt at around
a minute behind but was only chasing 8th place.
Tchmil closed to within 39 seconds of Tafi by the finish and took second
place ahead of Nardello. Mapei's other rider in the break, Paolo Bettini capped off a great day for the team by taking 4th