After all the excitement in the southern hemisphere in Australia and South America, it’s finally time for the French and European season opener. It’s the 33rd edition of the Grand Prix Cycliste La Marseillaise, owned and run by the newspaper of the same name.
The single stage race takes place tomorrow (Sunday 29th January) with a solid cast including former winners Jonathan Hivert (Saur-Sojasun) and Remi Pauriol (FDJ-Big Mat) [who has the same cycling coach as Sheree – Ed] but not the defending champion, Jeremy ‘it’s not a breakaway if I’m not in it’ Roy.
A total of 18 teams are taking part, largely French and Belgian, plus the Hungarian national team. In addition to three ProTeams – Vaconsoleil-DCM, FDJ-Big Mat and AG2R La Mondiale – the lineup will also include nine Pro Continental outfits such as Europcar, 1t4i, Cofidis, Saur-Sojasun, Bretagne Schuller and Team Type 1 Sanofi-Avensis, as well as six Continental teams including local boys VC La Pomme Marseille and Sean Kelly’s An Post team.
What kind of race is it?
The single day road race ridden around Marseilles – a semi-classic – was created in 1980. Since 2005 it’s been a UCI 1.1 category race on the European circuit and, from 2010, part of the French Cup circuit. It’s a medium-length race (148.1km) ridden over undulating terrain, as befits a season opener.
The race typically favours a puncheur, someone who enjoys attacking on an undulating parcours. Legend has it that whoever wins subsequently suffers a bad season. Indeed Marc Madiot, FDJ general manager cautions:
One needs to be competitive then almost, but not quite, win the race.
He must have forgotten to mention that piece of advice to last year’s winner, FDJ’s Roy. Of course, there are always riders who will buck this nonsense. Bernard Hinault won in 1982 and then went on to win the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France.
Unsurprisingly, the French feature heavily in the event’s list of previous winners, the most recent of whom are:
- 2007: Jeremy Hunt (Unibet.com)
- 2008: Herve Duclos-Lassalle (Cofidis)
- 2009: Remi Pauriol (Cofidis)
- 2010: Jonathan Hivert (Saur-Sojasun)
- 2011: Jeremy Roy (FDJ)
What happened last year?
Jeremy Roy won last year’s race having been part of an early three-man breakaway [quelle surprise! – Ed] along with Sylvain Georges (Big Mat) and Julien Guay (Roubaix-Lille). Guay was gobbled up by the peloton while Roy dropped Georges to win in 3:30:55. Georges came in 2:38 back and Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil) led the main bunch across the finish line a further five seconds in arrears.
Final general classification
1. Jeremy Roy (FDJ) 3:30:55
2. Sylvain Georges (Auber 93) +2:38
3. Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil-DCM) +2:43
4. Jure Kocjan (Team Type 1) +2:43
5. Arthur Vichot (FDJ)+ 2:43
6. Cyril Gautier (Europcar) +2:43
7. Riccardo Ricco (Vacansoleil-DCM) +2:43
8. Cedric Pineau (FDJ) +2:43
9. Julien Antommarchi (Team Type 1) +2:43
10. Julien El Fares (Cofidis) +2:43
This year’s race
The race essentially follows the same route each year, although this year it tarries a little longer in the Var. Le depart fictif starts in front of the Conseil General’s offices to the north of Marseilles. The race proper starts 9km later in Allouch before heading north again to Chateauneuf-le-Rouge, then over into the Var. It returns via Trets and Saint Zachoire before descending to Cassis and returning to Marseilles – via the Col de la Ginestre, 9.9km from the finish – where the race ends on the boulevard Michelet in front of Stade Velodrome, home to football team Olympique Marseille.
The King of the Mountains jersey competition takes in the following climbs, none of which are too taxing. For example, the first climb averages 4.3% for 7.3km, with nothing over 7%. The two subsequent climbs are easier.
- 62.2km: Col du Petit Galibier
- 95.5km: Col du l’Espigoulier
- 118.1km: Sommet Julhan-les Bastides
For more details on the race and a full list of participating teams and riders visit the official website.
Who to watch
French teams will be particularly keen to notch up their first win of the season and set themselves up for the subsequent stage race, L’Etoile de Besseges. Bretagne Schuller are still smarting from their Paris-Nice snub and are desperate for a place in this year’s Tour de France – a cyclist scorned perhaps?
To be honest the list of potential winners is almost as long as the list of participants. It’s a bit of a lottery this early in the season. But realistically we should consider Arnold Jeannesson and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ-BigMat), Romain Feillu, Marco Marcato and Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM), Remy Di Gregorio (Cofidis), Lloyd Mondory and Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale), Thierry Hupond (1t4i), Anthony Charteau (Europcar), Egidijus Juodvalkis (Landbouwkrediet), Julien Antomarchi (Team Type 1-Sanofi Aventis), Jonathan Hivert (Saur-Sojasun), Stefan Van Dijk (Accent Jobs-Willems Veranda) and Nico Eeckhout (An Post-Sean Kelly). Not, of course, forgetting that the local team of VC La Pomme will want to put on a show. The prize for the winner? His team will pocket €5,785.
Here at VeloVoices we’re going to be tracking locally-based neo-pro Gregoire Tarride from the VC La Pomme squad, who only last year was racing for French second division side Martigues. He impressively time-trialled his way to an 11- minute victory in last year’s 175km La Laurentine Andrei Kivilev, a prestigious local cyclosportive.
Links: GP Marseillaise website