A conversation with the cyclist-philosopher Guillaume Martin

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This year, Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) was the best French rider on the Grand Tours. He finished in the top 10 of the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España. Nobody did better. The philosopher-cyclist is already planning next year but lives by the motto of “carpe diem”, or “seize the day”.

Martin’s season continued until October with the Veneto Classic its last race. With 80 days of racing including two Grand Tours, it was one of the longest seasons of her career, but it started quite late after an injury sustained by Martin during training in the Sierra Nevada at the end of January. Martin started preparations for the 2022 season with another crash.

“I just started again with easy rides after three weeks without a bike completely,” he tells me. Behind him, I spot a trainer. He smiles when I point my finger at him. “I’m not a big fan of Zwift in the winter but I had a little crash with the mountain bike and I fell on my wrist. Fortunately, there is only a small fracture so it shouldn’t be too bad. Hopefully this is the last crash.

Martin started his professional career in 2016 with the Belgian team Wanty-Groupe Gobert after winning the U23 edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2015. It was an unexpected choice for the French climbing prospect, but he deliberately chose to develop as a runner outside of the French spotlight.

Fast forward to 2021 and, in his second season with Cofidis, Martin finished ninth in the Tour de France and eighth in the Vuelta a España. He won the one-day climber race, the Mercan’tour Classic, in a dominant fashion. He was also among the top 20 of the three Ardennes Classics Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

“On paper, it was almost my best season,” he recalls. “It was a tough winter with that crash in the Sierra Nevada and therefore a tough start. The season has not been stable, at least not as I have experienced it. Some racing days were really good and some were bad. while my feelings in training were always the same.

“In the Vuelta, I started really badly but after the 10th stage, I was even second in the general classification. Then I fell in stage 16 and again lost this position in the general classification. The whole season has been like this with ups and downs.

“I hope for some stability in my results and on the sensations on the bike next year. I also hope to avoid mechanics and accidents. Hope this one with mountain biking was the last, ”adds Martin with a smile.

Guillaume Martin in the big breakaway of stage 14 of the Tour de France.

Martin has already started and completed seven Grand Tours in his career: five editions of the Tour de France and two of the Vuelta. The Giro d’Italia presented a course for 2022 with only 26 kilometers against the clock – Martin’s weak point as a GC specialist – and with many uphill finishes and altitude meters. It’s a treat for climbers but as a Frenchman Martin is inclined to return to the Tour de France.

“We haven’t yet defined a program,” he said diplomatically, “but one day I want to discover the Giro d’Italia. I don’t know if it will be for next year. It is true that the course in Italy would suit me well but honestly we have not decided yet.

Martin’s eighth place in the Tour de France last year was his best result in a Grand Tour. He took advantage of a team’s lack of control after Tadej Pogačar more or less secured the lead after week one. This opened up many opportunities for the breakaways and Martin joined the breakaway on three stages where this early movement made it to the finish line.

“Next year, it depends again on the first week,” he looks to the future. “There will be rungs, cobbles and potentially crashes. This will define the course of the other two weeks. I think the course favors long breakaways and that gives me opportunities. The general classification is always my first objective but I think I can also win a stage. This year, I was already close a few times. One day, it will happen. ”

Guillaume Martin won the polka dot jersey of the Vuelta a España 2020.

Guillaume Martin is a top 50 rider in the UCI ranking, but he does not have the same pressure on his shoulders as other French riders. Indeed, it often seems to go unnoticed.

“I feel like I’m not very well known or there’s a lot of pressure from it,” he says. “Bardet, Alaphilippe or Pinot are much better known. I do not have the same experiences as Thibaut Pinot. His result in the Tour de France 2014 [Pinot was third] came after a bit of drought in French cycling.

“He was the first to get back on the podium after a long time, which makes his situation different. He was immediately nicknamed the future Hinault or Fignon. I came after him and after Bardet. It made a huge difference.

Guillaume Martin wins the inaugural edition of the Mercan’Tour Classic Alpes-Maritimes, his only victory of the season.

Martin is not just a cyclist; he is also a published author. So far, he has published two books on philosophy, a subject in which he holds a master’s degree from the University of Paris Nanterre.

“I don’t think the books I write are too complicated,” he smiles at my question. “It’s not that they lack depth, but they are accessible to a lot of people. For me, writing is also a moment of balance. Like a [pro] cyclist, you have many more hours to do other things. I could also lie on the couch, ”he laughs. “While writing takes a little effort, it relaxes me too.”

Of course, Martin isn’t the only one with a college degree in the peloton. Many development teams emphasize the dual career of combining education and sport. This is a relatively new development in the male peloton while it has been more common in the female peloton for some time.

“You don’t have to be specifically smart to finish college,” he explains. “I see a lot of intelligence in the peloton today and I think it’s a lot more than a few years ago. A career can be short, maybe 15 years, or even shorter if you’re unlucky with an accident. There is more emphasis on a Plan B with the current generation than the previous one.

Martin’s Cofidis team is one of the male cycling setups introducing a female team with the Tour de France Women on the horizon next season. This will spark additional interest in women’s cycling, Martin believes.

“I’ve followed women’s cycling over the years,” he says. “It’s changing very quickly and it’s interesting to follow, especially now that Cofidis has a women’s team. I will follow them with particular interest. After the Tour de France there’s always a bit of depression on the couch so it’s good that they scheduled the Tour de France Women at that time.

“When we talk about cycling, the general public sees and talks about the Tour de France. It’s a big step forward to have a Tour de France Women with the same level of organization as the Tour de France men. I hope this will attract more sponsors, raise the level and further develop the sport.

“Companies invested in cycling see the opportunities and the need for equality. The representation of women is a topic of discussion everywhere. We still have a lot of progress to make but it is happening. Businesses are also following this path.

“For several years now, there has been a team for runners with disabilities within Cofidis and it is also a good representation. Talent is everywhere. If we embrace diversity and become more diverse, everything becomes more interesting. “

The time trial will always be Martin’s Achilles heel in Grand Tour racing.

“When it comes to diversity in our peloton,” continues Martin, “we still have a lot to do but we are heading in the right direction. The roots of cycling are very European and you see that the sport has a solid base in four or five European countries. However, the world is becoming more and more global and we should embrace the global world more.

“African cycling is developing rapidly and the riders are reaching the highest level. The World Cycling Center [founded by the UCI in Aigle] did a great job, but we still have some issues to overcome. Talent is everywhere but there are economic burdens for African riders but also visa problems. My colleague Natnael Berhane has often experienced this. We should fix it.

Martin is a thinker in everything he does but he is also a lover of cycling and sport in general. He grew up with it and comes from a very competitive family.

“I know a bit about the history of sport, but I knew more about it when I was a kid,” he says. “My father and I used to play these quizzes and I knew all the Tour de France winners. I have to admit, I kinda forgot that, ”he said with a smile. “Sport was important to us. We’re a competitive family and I can’t see my life without some form of competitive sport to be honest. It’s something that I need in my life.

The 2022 season will be Martin’s seventh at the top of the sport. As noted, the Tour de France is most likely back on the cards again, but other likely targets include the Ardennes Classics. These are some of the races he most aspires to succeed in.

“I don’t have any specific dreams, but I have goals in cycling,” he explains. “I work on my time trial for example. I will never win a time trial but I can improve myself. I also miss a big victory on the Tour or become champion of France or win a Classic. I like the story of a race like Liège-Bastogne-Liège even though I think that a stage of the Tour de France is more important in France.

“I hope that will happen next year. I am not a dreamer. I live by the theme of ‘carpe diem’. I don’t dream of the future but I live today.


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