This Friday, September 1, Lenny Martinez experienced his very first day as a leader in a Grand Tour. After conquering the red jersey on Thursday, the young man from Groupama-FDJ did wear today on the seventh stage, made for the sprinters. He therefore fully enjoyed the day, before it all got nervous approaching Oliva. Thanks to a remarkable positioning from his teammates, he avoided the crashes and splits, and therefore climbed onto the podium to receive his jersey once again. As a much hillier stage looms on Saturday, he still is eight seconds ahead of his runner-up, Sepp Kuss.
By showing up at the start in Utiel this Friday, shortly before 1 p.m., Lenny Martinez officially became the youngest rider in history to actually wear a leader’s jersey on a Grand Tour. After taking command on Thursday, the 20-year-old had already somewhat digested everything that happened to him. “I’m starting to realize a little,” he said. “I could feel it from this morning at the start. When you’re the leader, you are a bit of an attraction. Everyone cheers for you, looks at you, asks you for photos. Many big names came to see me and congratulate me. It’s always nice, but it’s still weird to be the focus of attention”. Yet, he actually even more tasted his new celebrity as the stage was not the most exciting. Two men took the lead from the first minutes and led the way in front of the bunch, clearly in control. “After the very hard stage yesterday, and before what will be a tough weekend, we felt that the peloton needed to recover”, commented Benoît Vaugrenard. “For us, it was good like that as we had the jersey”. “It was still a long day of 210 kilometres if we include the neutral start”, added Lenny. “We did enjoy a calmer stage, and that did us good. It was a very nice day.”
“These kids are amazing”, Benoît Vaugrenard
While the young man from Cannes was nicely surrounded by all of his teammates at the front of the peloton, the leading duo’s gap hugely reduced with 80 kilometres to go, and Jose Herrada stopped his effort. His break companion kept on going, but with the nervousness of the peloton in the last hour of racing, Ander Okamika was caught forty kilometres from the line. The red jersey, meanwhile, never got in trouble. “We must emphasise the whole team’s great work”, insisted Benoît Vaugrenard. “These kids are amazing. They did a huge job for Lenny in the final, chapeau to them.” In the last fifteen kilometres, the Groupama-FDJ’s leader indeed remained in the front positions thanks to his young teammates. “With Clément and Lorenzo, we had to put Lenny in the best possible positions until the last three kilometres in order to avoid any crash or issue”, explained Romain Grégoire. “We did pretty well, I think. We all did our part”. “We knew it was going to be dangerous with the roundabouts”, added Lorenzo Germani. “We kept the lead until 2.5 kilometres from the finish. It was really good”. “Today, I just wanted to keep the jersey”, confided Lenny. “I’m happy because my teammates positioned me really well and I’ve never been so close in a sprint (smiles). It was great”.
“We’ll try to draw out the pleasure”, Lenny Martinez
After a confused final, nevertheless, including a few crashes, the French climber crossed the line in 23rd position while Geoffrey Soupe grabbed a surprising victory. “The negative part of the day was Lewis’ puncture,” added Benoît. “He had to position Sam for the sprint, but he couldn’t do it”. Sam Watson therefore obtained 18th place in the stage. While Michael Storer got by ok after a late crash, Lenny Martinez went, for the second day in a row, to take red (and white) on the podium. “It was super cool to ride with the jersey today,” he said. “We’ll try to draw out the pleasure. There are two nice stages this weekend. I’m just going to try not to lose time overall, as if I wasn’t the race’s leader.” “It was really nice to live such a day with the red jersey in the team”, added Lorenzo. “I hope we will keep it as long as possible, even if it will be hard. Anyway, it surely gives you a boost”. “We have already done a third of the Vuelta, the hardest part remains to be done, but we are right in the mix”, concluded Romain. “Having a team that performs well, it gives everyone confidence and puts all of us on the right track”. On Saturday, the Xorret de Cati (4km at 11.5%) will probably decide the race’s outcome, just four kilometres from the finish line.