A "philosopher-climber" took the stage victory and the lead of mountains classification at the Tour de l'Avenir Thursday, at the French-Italian border, in the ski resort of La Rosière. Indeed, Guillaume Martin, the Frenchman who is now second overall at three seconds behind Austria's Gregor Mühlberger, completed Masters in philosophy in June at Nanterre University, close to Paris. His subject of studies was, somehow a question of sport: the links between spirit and body in the work of Friedrich Nietzsche.
In one world, mountains mean to Martin both Thus Spoke Zarathustra (the famous book in which a sage goes up and down a mountain) and his favourite playground as a cyclist.
Prior to the Tour de l'Avenir this year he captured Liège-Bastogne-Liège U23, the oldest French amateur classic Annemasse-Bellegarde and went 4th in the Ronde de l'Isard.
On Thursday he launched an attack on the penultimate climb of stage 6 of the Tour de l'Avenir and won after a solo attack in La Rosière-Montvalezan, near the Italian border, saving six seconds to Mühlberger who came back very quickly in last ramps and put him under serious threat.
This victory is a real ease for Martin, who has struggled to find top results after he showed himself at the 2011 Junior World Championships, when he gave up with his personal ambitions and supported Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier (now an FDJ professionnal) to take the rainbow jersey.
Martin has suffered with asthma until this year and could never do better than a domestique work at the Tour de l'Avenir. His health now back in order, he is part of the French National team at the "U23 Tour de France", alongside Jérémy Maison (a neo-pro to FDJ next year), who crashed on Thursday while he was alone in front – the 'Tricolores' have had some very emotional days with a terrible disillusion and then the triumph of their other leader.
The former philosophy student, a son of a drama teacher and a martial arts teacher, also had a "complicated" image in a quite conservative cycling 'milieu'. He was thus defined as "an intellectual", an introverted character, always with his books, who strangely was said to be "self-centred" despite his ride for Lecuisinier at the 2012 Worlds.
"I have always liked Guillaume because he brings a different touch to the group," national coach Pierre-Yves Chatelon tells Cyclingnews. "I met him first when he was a junior and he had already an interesting personality, he was calm and could temper the rage of some other team mates.”
Built like a pocket-climber, rarely looking easy on his bike, Martin was also "too skinny" for some sports directors, like his namesake who finally turned pro to Garmin. The FDJ team tried him as a stagiaire last year, although they didn't give him a contract, but Martin never complained about what could be an old misunderstood.
"Guillaume sometimes doesn't look very strong and powerful," Chatelon observes. "When he was a Junior the other teams let him go, and we joked about the fact they didn't take him seriously. It was only half-true: Guillaume had real power and talent to be in front of the race and take some good results."
He is now in touch with three teams for 2016 and his victory at the Tour de l'Avenir has increased the excitement around him and may make his contract signing a bit faster.
Martin, who believed 2015 was his last chance to turn a pro – he planned otherwise to become a journalist – improved his training and spent more time in the Alps or in the Etupes area, the home town of his amateur team who's developed many successful climbers such as Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) and Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge).
"I come from an area of Normandy where there is nothing hillier than the 'col' de Berjou, a 2-km climb with 5-6 %", he tells Cyclingnews. "But I love traveling to explore mountains, whatever it is on or off the bike."
Last winter Martin did some trekking with his girlfriend in Nepal, on paths up to 4,500 meters. Last summer, for a short break before his final goals of the season, they went in Como, Italy, officially to have rest. "But we couldn't prevent walking a bit in the hills surrounding the lake," he says.
In July, in his building to the Tour de l'Avenir, he trained alone in the Menuires, a ski resort in the Alps at an altitude of 1,900m. "It was great to refresh the legs and brain and the environment was lovely," he tells. "A friend of mine went higher in a place with nobody and it turned into an opportunity to think about his life!"
Martin laughs heartily because he has spent a lot of time thinking. "I am more relaxed now I finished my university's studies," he says. "I can relax more, read more, focus 100% on cycling. At the Tour de l'Avenir I took an 'easy' book by Edgar Allan Poe. A few pages before I go to bed and I am fresh to ride the morning after."
Working on Nietzsche, Martin found out the German philosopher of 19th century almost theorized sports and the life of athletes. "The links are strong between spirit and body," he explains. "I am not only a body or not only a mind. Mind is part of body. And the body thinks..."
Pierre Carrey, the founder and president of DirectVelo, is Cyclingnews' correspondent at the Tour de l'Avenir.