Jeremy Hunt kicked off the European season in fine style, winning a two-up sprint in the GP De La Marseillaise in France. However, his victory was partly overshadowed by the ongoing legal dispute over Unibet.com?s right to use their usual team kit in France, with the squad wearing jersies in to Tuesday?s race bearing a question-mark logo.
Hunt was part of a group of 14 that moved away from the main bunch almost as soon as racing had got underway in the 126 kilometre event, a group also containing Briton Roger Hammond (T-Mobile). Hunt then took off with Mikhail Ignatiev (Tinkoff) and Dutchman Michel Elijzen (Cofidis) with 60 kilometres to go. On the final climb, Ignatiev and Hunt shed Elijzen and then the Briton outsprinted Ignatiev for his first win since a victory in the Tour of the Regions Wallones in July 2005.
Hunt said at the finish that the legal problems Unibet.com currently face in France had ?lowered team morale for the race, but we gave them the best kind of answer we could, by winning. Really, at the end of the day, it?s the victory that counts, not what kit the team are using.?
Even at the start it had remained unclear if Unibet.com would finally be able to start. Following a lengthy dispute with officials, the riders were given the all-clear to take part – but only if they rode in kit that did not advertise Unibet.com.
?It was a very difficult situation.? Hunt, who succeeds Unibet.com team-mate Baden Cooke as Marseillaise winner, recognised, ?and really all we wanted to do was race. This kind of victory is just what we needed, it couldn?t have come at a better moment.?
Unibet.com?s participation in the Etoile de Besseges stage race, which starts tomorrow is certain, but it looks more than unlikely they will take part in Paris-Nice, despite their recent promotion to the ProTour. Paris-Nice organisers ASO announced that the Belgian squad had not been selected – which has led to the UCI threatening to cancel the event.
Easy start for Cavendish
Mark Cavendish finished comfortably in the bunch after team mate Roger Hammond made the break in the pairs first race for T-Mobile. ?It was quite hard, but OK,? Cavendish said of the GP Marseillaise, his first ride as a fully fledged member of the T-Mobile squad (he rode as a stagiere for the team last year). ?There was talk of a bunch sprint but I think there?s been a change in the course. Everyone said it was flat, but it?s the first flat race I?ve done with a 15km climb in.?
After the break of 14 riders escaped, Cavendish was left in the peloton that was well Policed, leaving the main bunch to roll in several minutes down. Cavendish and Hammond both start the Etoile de Besseges tomorrow.