By Jean-François Quénet in Kuala Lumpur
Yohann Gène made history as he won stage 7 in Le Tour de Langkawi, although he wasn't the first Caribbean rider to win a professional race. His big friend and teammate Ronny Martias won a stage at the Tour of Picardie two years ago but this is one step higher in a Hors-Category race. They both hail from Guadeloupe, a French island in the southern part of the Atlantic Ocean where BBox Bouygues Telecom's team manager Jean-René Bernaudeau owns two properties and has been spending a lot of time since he retired from racing more than 20 years ago.
"Cycling is the sport number one on our island," Gène underlined. "We are followed by many fans. I hope this win will inspire many young guys from Guadeloupe. They have to know that they need to go away and experience the hard times of amateur cycling in mainland France if they want to succeed as professionals. We have a lot of talent back home but they become stars if they do something at the Tour of Guadeloupe and they don't go any further."
The huge crowds at the Tour of Guadeloupe actually make this stage race in August the second most popular in France after the Tour de France.
Together with Martias, Gène made the right move when he joined the French amateur club of Vendée U at the age of 15. He then made a top-five finish in the national championship for young riders.
He's not the only Guadeloupean to have achieved that but he and Martias are the only ones to have insisted on riding on the mainland for a few years in a row with feeder team Vendée U before turning pro. Gène made it with Bouygues Telecom in 2005. He has never finished in the top-three since then but he often tried and always put himself at the service of his teammates.
"At the Tour of Gabon earlier this year, I went into many breakaways but I got caught in the final kilometre," he remembered. "In the last stage, I got caught with 50 meters to go. I was used to losing, that's why I couldn't believe I was the winner here today. I'm pretty fast but I usually worked for a sprinter like Aurélien Clerc last year, but this time around, we don't have a real sprinter at BBox Bouygues Telecom, so everyone is able to win."
As Guadeloupe and a few far away islands are struggling economically and socially even more than mainland France, Gène was happy to send from Malaysia a message of hope.