DATE: Sunday 8 October
Seb Piquet, the voice of ASO’s events, struggled to hide the shock in his voice as he interviewed Riley Sheehan for TV after this year’s Paris-Tours. “With all due respect we were not really imagining a victory from you today,” he said, prefacing his first question.
The headlines in the press reflected any air of mystery that surrounded the result. “Boulder-based Riley Sheehan stuns with victory at Paris-Tours,” reported Vélo Magazine. “Riley Sheehan, l’immense surprise,” said La Nouvelle Republique. “Riley Sheehan, la sensation!” wrote Cyclisme’Actu, while Australian broadcaster SBS opted for “Paris-Tours boilover provided by sensational stagiaire Sheehan”.
Sheehan’s win may have been surprising for some, but nobody could argue with the quality of the performance. A 23-year-old stagiaire, competing in only his sixth race for IPT, rode beautifully and maturely to win the long-running French race.
This was the 117th edition of Paris-Tours, which, with its 10 gravel sectors and energy-sapping climbs in the closing 67 kilometres, discombobulates slightly given its October calendar position.
However, it was the presence of these vineyard paths as the race heads from west to east through the Indre-et-Loire that caught Sheehan’s attention beforehand. “As a junior, cyclo-cross was my thing,” he said. “Back in Colorado, we have a ton of good dirt roads to ride on, so when I saw the parcours here I got really excited.”
Yet, as the Avenue de Grammont drew ever closer, Team Arkéa Samsic’s efforts to set up a sprint finish for Arnaud Démare looked to be working well. A sole breakaway rider was beginning to fade, and no mechanical problems had befallen the French sprinter. Cue a four-man counter-attack, involving Sheehan, who turned the race on its head approaching the final off-road sector at Rochecorbon. The numbers game still favoured the group, but suddenly five leaders, as opposed to one, tilted the balance somewhat.
By the time the race reached Tours, the quintet’s advantage was insurmountable. “I knew at two kilometres to we were about to make it, so I was able to give some wheels away and get in the perfect position,” added Sheehan.
Some riders may have lost their nerve upon seeing the finish line in the distance. Sheehan didn’t: he sat third wheel with 500 metres remaining, and only started his sprint once Joris Delbove (St Michel – Mavic – Auber93) began his. The American hit the front inside of 150 metres to go and comfortably held on to become the first rider from his country to win Paris-Tours.
Sheehan said: “This is special, this is everything. It could be a big start for me.” Having also impressed on his IPT debut at the Maryland Cycling Classic in September, followed by a sixth-place finish at the Japan Cup a month later to end the season, him signing a three-year deal with the team was just reward for his efforts. Nobody could be surprised about that.