On Sunday, the peloton did not reach the first rest day of the Vuelta in the greatest calm. On stage 9, the riders faced the echelons on their way to the Collado de la Cruz de Caravaca. The white jersey Lenny Martinez got caught behind twice during the day, but his teammates managed to bring him back in the main bunch before the last climb. Then, he put on a nice fight and finished close to the best, on a late-decided line 2.5 kilometres from the top. The Groupama-FDJ climber therefore remains third overall after a long week of racing in the Vuelta. On Monday, he will enjoy, like all of his mates, a well-deserved rest day.

On paper, stage 9 scheduled this Sunday seemed to be less hard than that of the day before. On paper only, because on the ground, the riders quickly got aware of a fundamental fact at the start: the wind was blowing, hard and from the back. This therefore foreshadowed a nervous stage, and the peloton realized it right away. Several crashes followed one another at the start, and after only ten minutes of racing, the pack was scattered. “It was obvious there were going to be echelons”, said Lenny Martinez. “It was like: ready, steady, go, and there were groups everywhere”. “We knew it, and we warned the guys at the briefing,” added Benoît Vaugrenard. However, the young guard of Groupama-FDJ could not take place in the first group, mainly made up of the race leader’s team. “We had to hold tight for forty kilometres, and they limited their losses well,” added Benoît. “We were in the second group and there were only thirteen guys in front”. After about an hour of racing and fighting, the peloton came back together in the first climb of the day, then eight men took advantage of a small break to hit the front. As no one was dangerous for the overall, the peloton let the gap reach eight minutes.

“We came close to a disaster”, Benoît Vaugrenard

The calm lasted until halfway through, then the riders approached another exposed portion. The peloton obviously got excited, and with 80 kilometres to go, the echelons resumed. Around twenty riders made it to the first pack, including Lorenzo Germani, but Lenny Martinez was caught in the second, more substantial group, with several teammates. “It was only my second experience in the echelons”, explained the young man. “During the first one, I found myself in the last group. Today I was in the group just behind the first peloton.” “We came close to a disaster”, added Benoît. “Fortunately, they did a great work to come back, and it calmed down a bit in the first group because all the leaders were there. We got it right.” Although the gap reached one minute and a half at some point, the second peloton eventually organized to gradually get closer, and finally come back a little more than fifty kilometres from the line. “The team helped me really well all day, because with my weight, it’s really very difficult in the wind,” added Lenny. “Every time, we managed to recover well. The pace is also really hard in the echelons, so you can’t do sixty kilometres like that. There was a little moment of hesitation at a certain point because everyone stopped pulling, but the team took control and it revived the chase a bit”.

“It could have been much worse”, Lenny Martinez

Despite two very intense episodes, the team and Lenny Martinez got more scared than hurt. “It’s a good experience for them,” said Benoît. “A Grand Tour without wind, without difficult events, that would have been too easy. I think Lenny did well for his debut in real echelons, and I didn’t see them freaking out. They reversed the situation well and learned a lot on this day”. “I think I’m improving a little bit,” smiled Lenny. “It could have been a lot worse today.” Once the echelons were over, the white jersey refocused for the final climb, where the breakaway was able to fight for the stage victory. The peloton tackled the Collado de la Cruz de Caravaca (8km at 5.4%) with an important detail to take into account: the times would be taken about 2.5 kilometres from the summit due to a road in poor condition. However, this did not disturb Lenny Martinez, who got the help from Rudy Molard for a while. “The guys protected me well in the final, then I felt good, and I was able to almost finish the favourites”, he said. “I was a little scared after the tough day yesterday, but in the end, I felt pretty well today”. “We were also afraid that he would be a little cooked after this windy day, but he was amazing once again”, confirmed Benoît. “He was really in the mix, even more than yesterday”.

In contact with the main leaders for almost the entire climb, Lenny Martinez eventually lost a handful of seconds on the “line”. He then quietly reached the summit, where Lennard Kämna took the win, and got the best young rider’s jersey one more time. “We finished this week well, it was really important for the rest of the race and before the rest day”, concluded Benoît. “Lenny is third overall, best young rider, that’s cool! It’s been a great first week.” “It was a hard stage before the rest day, which will do us good”, Lenny concluded. “Then it will be time to head for the second part of Vuelta”.

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