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Aurélien Paret-Peintre wins GP La Marseillaise in photo-finish to open European calendar

Seven WorldTour teams raced for the first time in 2021 following a string of race cancelations and postponements.

It was the first elite men’s race of 2021, and a first-time winner; what’s not to like?

Aurélien Paret-Peintre (Ag2r-Citroën) snatched victory Sunday in the GP Cycliste La Marseillaise to officially open the European calendar for the WorldTour teams.

The 24-year-old pipped Thomas Boudat (Akéa-Samsic) and Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels) in a mad dash to keep the French one-day race firmly in Ag2r’s corner for the third time in the past four editions. It’s even more satisfying because Paret-Peintre wasn’t even supposed to be leading out the sprint. His task was to set up Tony Gallopin, who dropped his chain in the tussle.

“With the headwind, it was a special sprint and I have a little burst of speed, although I hadn’t planned to do the sprint at all,” he said. “When it came together in the sprint final, I couldn’t believe it. I found myself on the right wheel at the right time. It’s a beautiful combination of circumstances.”

The GP La Marseillaise (1.1), also the opening round of the season-long French Cup series, found itself as the center of the road cycling world Sunday.

Following a string of race cancelations across the Americas, Australia, the Middle East, and Europe, the race was the first to be contested with WorldTour teams in 2021.

Seven WorldTour teams showed up, including such hitters as Matteo Trentin (UAE-Emirates) and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), but the French teams always race hard and fast in the early season races on home roads.

There is still plenty of uncertainty of what might come in the next few weeks or months, but Ag2r-Citroën was keen on spicing up the race in its first appearance with its new co-sponsor. New transfer Lilian Calmejeane fired things up with attacks coming over Crêtes with about 30km to go.

That put pressure on the peloton to keep the bunch together for a mass gallop. Paret-Peintre, starting his third season in Ag2r colors, found himself at the front and showed off nerves of steep in a photo-finish victory.

“Every race in France is important for the team,” he said. “The objective is to carry momentum into Paris-Nice, our first objective, and then keep it going.”

Racing continues in France with Etoile des Bessèges (February 3-7) and Tour de la Provence (February 11-14). The WorldTour opens with the weeklong UAE Tour on February 21.