Tour de France 2020

Guillaume Martin: The Tour de France’s podium philosopher

Cofidis' GC star balances Tour ambitions with studying philosophy and writing books, but is looking to be known as more than a 'philosopher cyclist.'

Ever since Laurent Fignon sported his wire-rimmed glasses back in the early 1980’s, certain riders have garnered the label as the intellectual of the peloton. Back in Fignon’s era, when the sport was still largely working-class, such an identity came with a certain amount of baggage, and riders could even be ostracized.

But in recent years more and more cyclists have made it to the professional ranks while studying.

Yoann Offredo, a French rider who rides with the Circus-Wanty Gobert team turned professional while studying at the prestigious political science university Sciences Po, while Romain Bardet finished a masters in business management in the same year that he won a stage in the 2015 Tour de France.

But Cofidis rider Guillaume Martin — currently third in the Tour de France — has arguably taken the intellectual label to another level. Martin, who holds a master’s degree in philosophy, wrote a theatre piece on Plato during the 2018 Tour de France. And his thoughtful and witty book “Socrates on a Bike,” published in 2019, has been met with wide recognition in French literary circles.

While Martin is happy to be invited to the many literary programs on French television and radio, he is currently focused on his search for success in the Tour de France.

“When I write I like to be judged on my writing,” Martin told l’Equipe during the Tour’s first rest day. “And when I race I want to be judged on the quality of performances.”

Martin admits that his identity as the philosopher-cyclist was not always easy to juggle.

“Writing my book was a way of responding to the label of being the intellectual in the peloton,” Martin told VeloNews in an early-season interview. “But I support it better now. People will always be interested in my two identities. And as my results evolve, I am seen more and more for my career, even though people are still interested in what I have to say. I’ve found a good balance now. I didn’t want to just be known as the philosopher cyclist.”

Guillaume Martin
Martin sits in third overall ahead of stage 10, 28 seconds behind race-leader Roglič. Photo: James Startt

Some perhaps are surprised to see the soft-spoken Martin fighting for the Tour de France podium mid-way through what has already been a grueling race. After all, Martin’s palmarès do not match those of countrymen like Julian Alaphilippe, Thibaut Pinot, or Romain Bardet.

However, since the return to racing in August, Martin has been one of the most consistent performers, finishing third in the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge as well as the Critérium du Dauphiné. And while he is still getting used to challenging tenors of the peloton like current race leader Primož Roglič, it is a situation he is quickly adjusting to.

“I came to the Cofidis team this year to have more freedom and responsibility,” he said. “I could have signed with other World Tour teams, but I might not have had that freedom.”

While Martin is currently in third, he is not focused only on his final place in Paris. “Actually I think Cofidis would be more interested in a stage win, but the two are not mutually exclusive.”

In the end, Martin says that he is more interested in simply riding with flare. “I finished 12th last year and was very consistent. But I lack that grain of passion. This year I hope to have more inspired moments.”

Since the start of this year’s race, Martin has attracted attention for his aggressive racing. His late-race attack on the stage four finish to Orcières-Merlette allowed him to finish third, and he could be seen attacking the race leaders again on the Col de Peyresourde on stage eight.

Martin just missed the split with Egan Bernal, Mikel Landa, Tadej Pogčar, and Roglič near the summit of the Marie-Blanque climb near the finish of stage nine. But he is still satisfied with his performance.

“I’m not missing much,” Martin said. “And at the end of the day I finished with guys like Porte, Mollema and Quintana. Those are riders that all have a palmarès. The Tour is far from finished.”

But really, Martin is focused first on making his mark, and he plans to continue looking for moments to attack as the Tour enters its even more mountainous second half.

“The great champions are those that manage to find the balance between control and passion,” Martin said.

“People see Alaphilippe as someone who rides with lots of passion. But behind that exists a world of hard work and discipline. Chris Froome is often criticized for lacking passion and being too controlled but I disagree. I remember a couple of years ago when he attacked on the descent of the Peyresourde, something completely unexpected and full of passion. But that is like life in general. Even Nietzsche spoke about that. And every rider has to find that balance.”