Fresh from winning the Circuit de la Sarthe-Pays de la Loire, Guillaume Martin (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) is the third French climber after Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Warren Barguil (Fortuneo-Samsic) who is using the Tour du Finistère as a reconnaissance of stage 5 of the Tour de France and as a springboard to La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Twenty-third at last year's Tour de France in his first participation, including a third place on stage 8, the 24-year-old has yet to reach the fame of his two compatriots, but he's the only one with the pedigree of a Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner, having won the U23 category in 2015.
"I keep it as a great memory and it certainly helped me join a Belgian team as a neo pro," Martin told Cyclingnews in an exclusive interview in Quimper on the eve of the Tour du Finistère.
"But the U23 version of the race didn't feature all those hills and it was shorter," he says, then goes on to describe his subsequent, less auspicious results in Liège. "I started my pro career with a knee injury in 2016. My first training ride was in March that year. I took part in the Ardennes classics but shortly after an operation. Last year, I suffered tendinitis in early April."
Having won a stage and the overall in the Circuit Sarthe, Martin is going into the Ardennes Classics with much more confidence. "For the first time since I turned pro, I'm on the right track towards Flèche and Liège. Having won a stage is great for the morale.
"For now, as a pro I've only won stage races or a stage inside a stage race," continued a very humble Martin, who beat none other than Vincenzo Nibali, Giovanni Visconti and Egan Bernal to win the Giro della Toscana at the end of last season.
I'm yet to win a one-day race. The lead up is different.
"By now, I know Belgian pro racing better than French cycling. I feel good in this environment. The atmosphere in the team is like a family and the passion for the sport is huge in Belgium. Actually, I have Flemish ancestors too. My grandmother was born under the name of Lunneman. She lived in France mostly but spent her last few years in De Haan on the Belgian coast. My dad has a bigger passion than me for the history of cycling. He was a fan of [seven-time Bordeaux-Paris winner] Herman van Springel.
"I've improved my cycling in the past few years and I've reached levels of performances that I had not imagined before. I see no limit to this progression and I'll do my best to improve as much as possible. Last year's Dauphiné was an eye-opener. In the mountains, I was just one step below the likes of Richie Porte and Chris Froome. I was with them until the real fight started. In the future, I hope to be part of the fight for victory as well."
Back to the Ardennes Classics, Martin, who has caught the attention of several WorldTour teams, doesn't consider it a disadvantage to have prepared for them at the Circuit de la Sarthe, compared to the Vuelta al País Vasco.
"To have started my career with Wanty-Groupe Gobert is the best thing that happened to me," the rider from Normandy stated. "In terms of race program and leading role, I would not have been in such a favorable situation for riding the Tour de France, had I turned pro directly in a WorldTour team.
"Nowadays, there are different ways to prepare for Flèche and Liège. With the Settimana Coppi e Bartali and the Circuit de la Sarthe, I feel that I have two solid stage races in my legs whereas last year I had only one [Volta Catalunya]. I've seen Tim Wellens smashing the race at Brabantse Pijl this week although it was his first day of racing after a 31-day break. He hasn't taken part in the Basque Country.
"I like both Flèche and Liège. I won't beat Alejandro Valverde in a sprint finish but I aim for some satisfactions in the Ardennes next week."
Martin holds a university master's degree in philosophy and could tell you a lot about the way to define happiness. In his adaptation of Nietzche's work to modern sport, he recalled that the German philosopher didn't advice peace but victory.
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