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European season kicks off with GP Marseillaise

Eighteen teams, including eight French teams, will take part in today's GP d'Ouverture La Marseillaise, the traditional kick-off to the European road season followed by the Etoile de Bessèges stage race starting on Wednesday.

According to the French Cycling Federation, among the teams will be the Swedish registered ProTour squad, currently at the center of a conflict between the UCI and ASO, organisers of Paris-Nice. However, according to race organisers, Unibet will have to wear a neutral jersey that does not reference their name and sponsor "," which is prohibited in France due to regulations on gambling advertisements.

The winner of last year's race, Australian Baden Cooke, will defend his title in the one day race between Gardanne and Luminy, but the 2006 winner, Belgian Frederik Willems, will not compete.

The two races also mark the return to competition of American Tyler Hamilton, who served his two-year doping suspension for blood doping after a violation in 2004. Hamilton belongs to the Italian team Tinkoff Credit Systems.

Other favorites for the race include Christophe Moreau (AG2R), Pierrick Fredigo (Bouygues), Sébastien Chavanel (Française des Jeux), Patrice Halgand (Crédit Agricole), Bradley McGee (Française des Jeux), Niko Eeckhout (Chocolats Jacques), Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux), and Axel Merckx (T-Mobile).