GP d’Ouverture – La Marseillaise preview

The season has started the Tour Down and the Tour de San Luis. But this weekend marks the return of road racing in the Northern Hemisphere with the Grand Prix d’Ouverture-La Marseillaise. With it comes a sense of familiarity and repetition and if there are only a few hours to go before this race starts you sense there’s another clock ticking too and this race along with others might have only a few years left on the calendar.

The route

The start and finish are in Marseille, France’s second city. A loud place with a touch more hustle than bustle that’s often in the news for violence and strikes but away from the scare stories often good for a visit. The race offers a series of climbs makes up the route, in general the race is either going up or down. The biggest climb is the Pas de la Couelle, known to cyclists as the Petit Galibier or “small Galibier” with sections at 7% but the decisive point is usually the Col de l’Espigoulier.

The Col d’Espigoulier

None of these climbs are tough, they are usually done in the big ring and are a useful test of early season form. A sprinter in good shape can get over them with the leaders. Indeed the race has been won by sprinters in the past but the course can make it hard to organise a chase. The countyside was made famous by Marcel Pagnol and works like Marius and Manon des Sources (made into a successful film t00).

The finish is flat and outside the Stade Vélodrome. Once a cycling track, today the stadium is the home of Olympique Marseille, one of France’s top soccer clubs. The Tour finished here last summer where Mark Cavendish won the stage ahead of Edvald Boasson Hagen.

Superstition: it’s said this is a race you don’t want to win, even that the winner is cursed for the rest of the season. The more rational explanation is that the winner is the strongest on the day and they’ve peaked too early and perhaps the winner gets too self-congratulatory and loses focus on training. Curse? Anyone starting wants to win.

Contenders: it’s hard to pick a single rider because most have yet to start racing and because the race is so open. Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol) has a fast finish and will find the hills no problem, the same for Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Michel Kreder (Wanty-Gobert) too. Watch Romain Feillu to see if Bretagne-Séché’s new signing is back; the same for Julien Simon (Cofidis). But the prime pick is John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) with the outside tip of IAM Cycling’s Matteo Pelucchi. Update: Bryan Coquard is a late addition to the start list so “the Green knight” is a worthy pick too.

You’ll find the full startlist over at

Weather: a cool 10°C (50°F) with the infamous Mistral wind promising to rip things up as it gusts to 65km/h.

Why might this race have only a few years left? Ouverture means “opening” as in the start of the season. But this doesn’t mean accessible. There’s no race website and you have to sleuth details like the profile from fan sites. Nobody in France is talking about it. Even the newspaper that promotes the race has nothing on its website. Locals wanting to see the event are thwarted in their struggle to find where the race goes. This is the opposite of sports promotion, it’s cyclesport confidential.

Meanwhile teams and riders can look at new races like the Dubai Tour which offer an equal amount of UCI points but way more in terms of publicity and promotion with TV promised as well as generous prize money, appearance fee payments and more including five star hotels to pamper the riders, team staff and visiting media too.

The competition is tough and maybe unfair. Rather than knock La Marseillaise we should salute the local organising committee, it’s an effort just to get the race on the road especially given the rising police costs this year in France. But they can’t compete against the petrodollars flowing out of Dubai. This race started in 1980 and its future is not eternal.

21 thoughts on “GP d’Ouverture – La Marseillaise preview”

  1. It looks like a great route to ride if you’re down that way, which we will be later in the year. The photo of the Col d’Espigoulier looks brilliant – but that may be as much to do with the comparison it forces with the appalling weather we have experienced in the South of England for the last couple of months. Do you you details of the route?

  2. I’ll take your last paragraph as the best part of the bit. It’s amazing how ANYTHING was ever done without the internet, Facebook and Twitter, eh? They can spend all the petro-dollars they have in the Middle East, but they can NEVER purchase the terrain and history needed for exciting bike races. It’ll be sad if races like this are ditched for boring slogs along sandblasted highways, with nobody watching from the roadside.

    • Ahh, but that boring slog along sandblasted highways are broadcast by ASO(??) and generate broadcast revenue. This is professional sport. The goal is growing the audience and revenues at the same time.

      It’s always an interesting question of how much of the revenue is recognized vs. how much passes to individuals like UCI officials. Case in point, the Keirin bribes paid to Verbruggen and Verbruggen’s stock trading account with Thom Wiesel, head of USA Cycling.

      Meanwhile, GP d’Ouverture – La Marseillaise has no broadcast rights to sign over to ASO/UCI because there is no broadcast and the gulf states have plenty of State funds to give to sports. Sky Dive Dubai anyone??

      • Yes. Let’s sell the soul of our sport and go the Premier League way.

        Just an idea, may even be stupid: Can’t ASO bunch up all these races in their portfolio and sell a part of this stake to Dubai/Qatar. They could rename the race to something like “GP Petro Dollar La Marseillaise.” Those countries have so much money that they wouldn’t mind throwing some cash around for extra publicity in the second city of France or a region with rich cycling history.

        • Qatar and Dubai have no interest in funding races in northern Europe. The publicity they’re buying is all centred on marketing their own countries. Just because they’ve got petro dollars spilling out of every pocket, doesnt mean they’ll just fund some tiny race in France…or Spain…or Portugal. Renaming a race will do nada for their marketing objectives, cos there’s no connection at all to their countries. Now races that show off their fancy hotels and towers and beachfronts under guaranteed blue sky and sunshine…’look at our amazing country, look at this lovely place to visit as a tourist’etc – different story.

          • Well the idea works for football. I keep seeing shirts that say things like Qatar and Etihad and wonder what they are. The owners/sponsors create awareness for their airlines/tourist councils/what have you, and that is what they are purchasing. Stadium naming rights are expensive and highly-coveted; races in Europe do not have title sponsors?

          • I think some of the footage from Dubai will be breathtaking, especially the sprint finish outside the swanky hotel on the fake palm tree island.

  3. These ‘old’ world races are the important base of the professional pyramid. The South of France has lost most of its early season races in the last forty years, a few hang on. If GP Overture Marseillaise is to disappear following quickly on the GP Haribo’s recent demise. then what odds on the Tour of the Mediterranean, Tour of High Var and the few other south of France races surviving. Not all races require international television coverage for their success, although it undoubtedly helps with sponsorship. For the French, who have their own internal professional competition, yet another event lose would be a disaster. They would be in danger of ending up like the Spanish, without a coherent internal calendar for both WT non WT teams. The Italians are also following this unhealthy trend.

    Local organisers are the life blood of the sport even in these difficult economic times, they do it because they have a passion, unlike those in it for the profit and the ego trip.

    Be careful what you wish for.

    • The Tour Med has been struggling for sometime. Nobody’s making money from these events but some are losing money and trying to scrape together funds for the annual budget is a big job. As hinted in the piece above, rising police costs are coming and these could push some races past the tipping point.

      Note the big change. Once upon a time these races existed in the south because they offered milder weather and teams would often be training nearby, not just the French but Dutch and Belgians too and it was not far for Italians to travel either as many were holding training camps in Liguria (which explains the defunct Nice-Alassio race but that’s another story). But warm weather in January and February isn’t the relative mildness of Provence, it’s the Gulf, Argentina, Australia and Malaysia etc.

  4. You know, I am constantly amazed at the parallels with F1 in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and the current changes going on in the closed and closeted World of Cycling. The one off F1 ‘Cup’ races that used to infiltrate into the season that didn’t count towards the World Championship. Oulton Park Gold Cup, Brands Hatch winer series, the Tasman Championship down under. Stand alone F1 races for all to enjoy…..all for the fans who attended the circuits. They are now all gone to be replaced by a circus that goes where the money is….Petro Dollars, TV rights and State Funded. On soulless circuits with little regard for history.

    World cycling is 30 years behind F1, but it is going down the same track and gathering momentum……..we will end up with teams contracted to do certain races, for a return on the broadcasting rights.

    All it needs is a ‘Bernie Ecclestone’ to organise a world championship for teams or individuals, across four continents, to organise the teams to realise their combined value to the ‘Championship’, to arrange TV coverage and then hold the UCI to ransom to agree to it all…..although they will also get a share of the monies, which will ease their troubled mind…and then, as Henry Ford said, History will be Bunk.The ‘Championship’ will overshadow all else and the smaller events will shrivel and die.

    Can’t/Won’t happen? That is exactly what happened in F1.

  5. INRNG. Your comments are clearly true but not all teams journey to distant lands for training camps. Most of the French teams still use the Cote de Azur for their camps – you know, they are French and on limited budgets ! Italian sponsored teams still like to stay at home for their training camps. Very warm climates are not always the best preparation for the early northern classics.

    The point I was really trying to make is that the Pro scene is more than just WT, it is the sum of its parts. These events are the bread and butter for many professionals and their sponsors, they give them an opportunity to show their worth to the larger teams on sometimes demanding and unique courses. In addition they are organized by local enthusiasts with mainly local sponsorship and an enthusiastic local crowd which always gives them a unique atmosphere. Finance, increasing costs or the current attitude of the UCI may well see them lost. If they, are many non WT pros and their sponsors will find themselves with nowhere to display their wares.

    I still caution about what many wish !

  6. I find that all these comparisons with other sports hard. Unlike nearly every other sport (alpine skiing maybe excepted) it’s multi disciplined within the same event(s) and also trying to fit different disciplines into the same overall annual competition.

  7. It’s a bit disturbing to see all these minor races struggling… but has there been any research performed on if the races continue, but just on an amateur level?

    Slovakia doesn’t exactly have any professional races (Okolo Slovenkso is relatively new, and only rated 2.2 by the UCI); and certainly no World Tour Events… but the local scene is quite alive and well, on an amateur level.

    It could drive local scenes to be more inward focused, with less professional athletes, a strong amateur grass roots scene, and the best of that crop get scouted and put into the WT circus by their respective country/trade teams [Linking with the article about the French super-team coming up]…

    With such limited rides available at WT level, it might be the flagship and the money maker, but it surely won’t mean that the levels and ranks underneath will get washed away because of no money. Riders and promoters just need to re-organize their races to be held with minimum budget and little prize money, like if it was on an amateur level.

  8. Here’s the top 10 (11) from today in Marseille, bunch sprint finish (source:
    1. Kenneth Vanbilsen (Bel / Topsport Vlaanderen)
    2. Baptiste Planckaert (bel)
    3. Samuel Dumoulin (Fra)
    4. John Degenkolb (Dui)
    5. Arthur Vichot (Fra)
    6. Julien Simon (Fra)
    7. Laurent Pichon (Fra)
    8. Pello Bilbao (Spa)
    9. Edvaldas Sickevicius (Lit)
    10. Romain Bardet (Fra)
    11. Nicolas Vereecken (Bel)

    • Thanks. A breakaway saw several climbers in action with Thibaut Pinot in the mix but it was all together at 2km to go. Vanbilsen isn’t a big name but he could be – he won the U-23 Tour of Flanders a couple of years ago.

  9. According to cyclingnews the Dubai Tour is “one of the world’s most eagerly anticipated races”.

    Wonder when the other 9 four stage races buy there way into the season?

    Shame on all those involved in creating this. I love how sport is used to deflect attention from what’s really going on in a country.

    ‘United Arab Emirates targets HRW for critical report’, Alastair Sloan, Index On Censorship, 29 January 2014

    I love how the cycling authorities can preach ethics and sanction races such as this.

    Maybe it’s not the money that’s so attractive. Maybe the powers that be in cycling love their attitude towards drugs:
    ‘The Emirati authorities count the presence of drugs in the blood stream as possession.’

    I’d be lying if I said I didn’t give a sh*t about this race – because I do – I hope it is a massive failure.

    • This race is hardly unique, sport visits all sorts of countries. See then track worlds in Belarus, the Baku cycling team and many others using the sport to buy some good publicity. But at the same time, a race in Dubai is just a drop in the ocean for their publicity budget.

  10. “cyclesport confidential”

    Totally agree, many French races suffer from this. No websites or if they have, they update the site a week or two before the race, post results and the site stays the same for the next 11 months. It’s not just pro races, amature races and sportives are also guilty.

    Route du Sud is a good example.

    They have a Facebook page which has two posts on it since the race ended in June.

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