These days, it's increasingly difficult to tell when one season ends and the next one begins. On Thursday morning, Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) was at the Palais des Congrès in Paris for the 2022 Tour de France presentation, casting an eye forward to the roads he will face next July.
On Sunday afternoon, he was back in 2021, squaring off his long campaign with a combative display at the Veneto Classic, where he eventually placed eighth in a race won by Samuele Battistella (Astana-Premier Tech).
"It was a strange week for me because on Monday, I was already in Italy for the Coppa Agostoni and then I was back in France for the presentation," Martin said after he slowed to a halt in Bassano del Grappa on Sunday.
"It was a long race to finish the season and a really hard one also. I gave what I had left in the legs after the whole season."
Martin's first competitive outing of 2021 came at the Faun-Ardèche Classic in February and his season took in top 10 finishes at both the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España either side of the trek to Japan for the Olympic Games, after a busy spring campaign that included a strong showing at Paris-Nice.
It would have been understandable had he called time on his campaign after reaching Santiago de Compostela in ninth overall, not least because he had suffered a heavy crash in the third week. Instead, he returned for half a dozen more one-day races in October, for reasons both romantic and pragmatic.
"I think I'm bit of an addict of racing," Martin smiled. "But there is also a race for [UCI] points. Not everybody knows it, but for the teams it's also important not only to win races, but to have riders in the top 10 to get some points. That's why we have to race from the beginning to the end of the season.
"But it's also a nice way to conclude the season. Nice weather, nice landscape: I was happy to discover this race."
In reaching the finish line in Bassano del Grappa, Martin ensured that he completed every race he started for the third full season in succession. Indeed, his unbroken sequence of completed races now stretches all the way back to the Trofeo Laigueglia at the very start of the 2018 season, though Martin explained that the record is simply a by-product of his approach to sport and competition.
"My goal isn't to not abandon, it's to do the best result possible. I start every race with a fighting spirit and that's why I never give up. I think that's the main explanation," said Martin. "But I am proud of it, it says something about the kind of rider I am."
Martin admitted that the sequence was almost interrupted at this year's Vuelta, when his crash on stage 16 left him with breathing difficulties through the remainder of the race and saw him slip gradually from second overall at the start of the third week to ninth overall at the finish.
"It was hard to finish the Vuelta, and really if I wasn't fighting for a good place on GC, I might have abandoned," he said. "The week afterwards I was in a bad state, I was struggling even to sit in the car, so riding a bike was complicated but it started getting better and I raced again in October. But maybe it would have been wiser to have finished my season back then."
GC goals in 2022
In 2021, Martin became the first French rider to place in the top 10 of two Grand Tours in the same season since Laurent Jalabert and Richard Virenque both achieved the feat in 1995.
Those displays were testimony to both his consistency and resilience, particularly given that a knee injury had delayed the start to his season, even if Martin's avowed aim is to win more often.
His lone victory of 2021 came at the Mercan'Tour Classic Alpes-Maritimes in May, but the nature of his race programme and the competition means that such opportunities are at a premium.
"I would have liked more wins, but I did almost solely WorldTour races and often with Roglič or Pogačar on the start line. When you're racing with those guys, half of the wins are taken away immediately, and the other half go to Van Aert or Van der Poel, so there's not much left," Martin said.
"I didn't do many more 'smaller races,' so to speak, where it's a bit easier to go for the win, but I was still competitive at world level all year long. The headline was the top 10 finish in two Grand Tours, with a little regret about the Vuelta, because I think I could have done a lot better than 9th without the crash at the start of the last week. But we'll never know."
No matter, Martin knows himself a little better after this 2021 campaign. With two time trials on the Tour route, the 28-year-old had set out from Brest targeting stage wins rather than a high overall finish.
His aggression in pursuit of that objective on the road to Quillan briefly lifted him to second overall, and though fatigue told in the third week, he reached Paris in his best-ever finish of 8th.
"The experience of this Tour showed me that, in the future, I'm made for chasing the GC above all," Martin said. "In French we say, 'chassez le naturel, il revient au galop' ['Drive off character, and it comes back galloping' – Ed.] It's a bit like that. I wanted to go for stages, but my nature, my character – namely, going for GC – came back."
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