By Jean-François Quénet in Adelaide
Third in Willunga after running fifth in stage 2 and 13th in stage 3, Rony Martias is one of the most consistent riders in the 8th Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under. The Bouygues Telecom rider even started climbing Willunga Hill alone in the front but he got caught before the summit. Hailing from Basse-Terre in Guadeloupe, a French island in the Carribeans, he looks like coping pretty well with the heat. "But it's not the same heat at all," he explained. "At home, it's very humid, it's more of a Malaysian climate than an Australian one."
Apart from captain Walter Bénéteau, Bouygues Telecom had designated a team of very young riders for the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under, and they only arrived in Adelaide on Sunday, expecting the worst, jet lag wise, but they actually performed very well so far with Sébastien Chavanel making the break in stage 1 and neo-pro Vincent Jérôme finishing fifth in stage 3. "I'm pretty happy with the boys this week," directeur sportif Christian Guiberteau said.
25 year-old Martias, a winner of the amateur GP Plouay before turning professional, is a prospect for the future of French cycling. "I improved a lot by riding the Tour of Italy last year," he declared. I could feel at the end of the season, let's say at the Tour de l'Avenir and Paris-Tours, that I was much stronger. Now I've been very serious during the off-season. I did some solid training in Guadeloupe in November, then I went back to Nantes in December, I didn't celebrate Christmas or New Year, I was on my bike." But his next destination after Adelaide is Martinique, another Carribean island where his girlfriend comes from.
Martias is the cousin of track and field sprinter star Christine Arron and he also has some sprinting abilities on a bicycle. The races he loves the most are the Belgian classics, nothing familiar to someone coming from a sunny island. In Guadeloupe, people are mad about cycling. Their Tour, in August, drags hundreds of thousands of spectators and local media are extremely enthusiastic. Fans who think Brittany is still the hot bed of French cycling should experience Guadeloupe, where a start of the Tour de France has been considered but denied because of the six hours time difference and the complications of such an organisation overseas. If Martias, or his Bouygues Telecom companion Yohan Gène, gets a chance to ride the Tour de France, it would have an unbelievable impact for them at home.
"I'd love to do it but I'm not the person in charge of the decision, let's go for the classics first," Martias said. That person, Jean-René Bernaudeau indeed, owns a house in Guadeloupe and is a regular visitor to the island. He convinced Gène and Martias to give their career a different direction than all the other good young riders from the Carribeans before them: forget about racing at home and give it all for turning pro via the feeder team Vendée U.
Now Martias isn't only Bernaudeau's dream of developing a Guadeloupean rider. He's really knocking at the door of the Tour de France team.