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French rider Guillaume Martin came to this year’s Vuelta a España with high hopes after his 11th-place showing in the Tour de France. But any general classification ambitions instantly crumbled on stage two when he lost over eight minutes after getting caught behind a major split in the peloton.
Ironically since the overall hopes of the Cofidis team leader came to an end, the 27-year-old has been consistently on the attack and has been in the winning break the past three stages. On stage 5 he came closest to victory when he finished second to Belgian Tim Wellens. And after finishing sixth on stage 6, Martin was again in the break Wednesday, where he finally finished fifth behind the day’s winner Michael Woods.
“It’s been a real week of discovery, as I have had to ride differently than I am used to riding,” Martin said during a press conference on Monday’s rest day. “Losing time on stage two was disappointing, but it also liberated me a bit tactically and has allowed me to really go on the offensive.”
For Martin, who is currently in 20th position, his new role as a stage hunter, while unexpected, has been a pleasant surprise.
“It’s been new for me to hunt for stages and not have to worry about saving my energy or calculating my efforts. I feel good right now and really there is no reason why I cannot get a stage win in the next two weeks of racing.”
Martin has been racing consistently well since the season re-started in the wake of the coronavirus crisis and he was a consistent podium finisher in August in races like the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge, and the Critérium du Dauphiné before going onto a strong Tour de France. But perhaps he paid the price in the opening of this year’s Vuelta.
“The season has really been short and dense and my feelings were a bit strange at the start here. I felt good but had trouble with making intense efforts. It took me a few stages to really get into the rhythm. But now that everyone is tired, things are going better. There are really a lot of stages where breakaways can get away. It’s going to be explosive. You have to be opportunistic and see each stage as a real opportunity!”
Martin admitted that he did not have the best legs on stage seven to Villanueva de Valdegovio on Tuesday, a stage that was marked by a double assault on the Puerto de Orduña climb. And in the final, after being outfoxed by Woods for the stage win, he was no match for Alejandro Valverde when it came to the sprint for third. But while he only finished fifth, he climbed into the blue and white best climber jersey, something which will only provide further motivation in the weeks to come.
“Certainly it is disappointing to finish fifth, but it is always satisfying to wear a distinctive jersey. And you always want to keep it for as long as possible,” he said after the finish on Tuesday. “I’m going to do my best to keep it until Madrid.”
while winning the red jersey awarded to the overall winner of the Vuelta requires cool calculation, the climber’s jersey encourages aggressive riding as the best climber needs to consistently be in the breakaways to pick up points on the many early climbs of the day. It’s a new role for Martin, but one he is quickly learning to enjoy.
“We always take pleasure in doing something new, and this is a new way of riding for me,” he said. “I can go on the attack when I want and it is a pleasure. It’s really liberating.”