“Fighting to the line” idiom has rarely been so accurate. On the Classic Var this Friday, Lenny Martinez took his first victory of the season for his return to racing, after he jumped Tobias Halland Johannessen on the very last metres. At the top of Mont Faron, the young French climber sprinted to the end to overcome the Norwegian, also rewarding a great team performance confirmed by the sixth and tenth places of David Gaudu and Romain Grégoire. The Groupama-FDJ cycling team now tallies three wins in 2024.

A brand-new race celebrated its first edition on Friday in the south of France. Instead of planning three stages on the Tour des Alpes-Maritimes, the organizers decided to split the event to create the Classic Var prior to the weekend. The climbers welcomed the news with joy since the iconic Mont Faron (5.7 km at 8.4%) was set to conclude the 184 kilometers of racing. David Gaudu, Lenny Martinez, and Romain Grégoire also took advantage of it to make their return to competition. The big battle was expected in the last twenty kilometers, and the first hours of racing were mainly about controlling a breakaway including Morne Van Niekerk (St-Michel-Mavic-Auber 93), Valentin Tabellion (Van Rysel-Roubaix), Victor Vaneeckhoutte (Lotto-Dstny DT), Maël Guégan (CIC U Nantes Atlantique), Noah Knecht (Nice Métropole Côte d’Azur) and Alessandro Iacchi (Corratec-Vini Fantini). “The start of the race went as planned, and we didn’t want a too dangerous breakaway,” explained Yvon Caër. “We must also highlight the work of Jens [Verbrugghe] for 140 kilometers.” The young Belgian from “La Conti” took part in the chase within the bunch. After passing around the Circuit du Castellet, around thirty kilometers from the finish, Fabian Lienhard took over and it was then Lars van den Berg who set the pace at the front of the peloton in the climb of Corps de Garde.

“We were a step ahead”, Yvon Caër

Shortly before the summit, and before heading towards Toulon, Kevin Geniets allowed the team to tackle the descent in the very first positions. “We had a precise plan up until the start of this descent,” Yvon added. “We absolutely wanted to go fast on the descent, and I think that was the key to approaching Mont Faron. After the downhill, a twelve-rider split went and the four riders we wanted to have were up there. We were one step ahead.” Tackling the decisive climb of the day, Groupama-FDJ still had all its cards, and therefore tried to use them as best as possible. “Romain made the first move, which allowed Lenny and David to let the others work behind,” continued Yvon. The young Frenchman accelerated from the first slopes before being caught four kilometers from the top and then pulling for his teammates. After a nice turn in the lead, the attacks resumed, especially with David Gaudu. But like other competitors such as Romain Bardet, Aurélien Paret-Peintre, Michael Woods or Tobias Johannessen, the climber from Brittany did not manage to open a gap. “I tried not to explode when the guys attacked,” said Lenny Martinez. “Even if I was on the limit, I really had to stay in touch because it could also calm down. The small road made things a little harder because everyone was fighting for his position. I wanted to make an attack at the end to play with David’s presence, but others did so, and I told myself I would wait until the final. It was just an instinctive decision.”

“I gave everything until the end, and I was right”, Lenny Martinez

Under the flamme rouge, and despite some accelerations, six riders were still in the running for the win, including Lenny Martinez and David Gaudu. The latter eventually launched the “sprint” almost 500 meters from the finish. Romain Bardet and Tobias Johannessen managed to follow while Lenny Martinez lost a few meters. The Norwegian broke away 50 metres from the line and thought he would win. Yet, thanks to a last kick, Lenny Martinez came back with speed from behind to steal the victory on the line. “I was really exhausted,” Lenny said. “I had blurred vision due to the effort, and I was just looking for the finish line. I saw him raise his arms and I thought I could still pass him. That’s what I managed to do, and that’s cycling. It’s special because I thought it was over with 300 metres to go because I was distanced, but I gave everything until the end, and I was right.” Despite a slight confusion, Lenny Martinez therefore did write his name at the top of Mont Faron for his first day of racing of the year. “I’m really happy to win here, in front of my family, close to home, in a race that I had targeted,” he added. “The guys did a tremendous job. It’s also thanks to them that I win.” “Lenny didn’t give up, that’s in his genes,” confided Yvon. “The picture of the finish does not show the great teamwork throughout the whole race. At the end of the day, winning is winning. We had pressure, with a team identified as being the strongest. We took our responsibilities and did what we had to do. Lenny benefited from the work of all his teammates. He was the one who had the energy to finish it off, and he did.”

At the top, David Gaudu (6th) and Romain Grégoire (10th) also entered the day’s top-10, completing a successful day. “What I feared the most was how our three leaders were going to feel for their return to racing, but it went well,” Yvon concluded. “We can see that all our riders are now performing well when they resume racing. Looking ahead to the weekend, Romain is going very well, Kevin too, and we are smiling! Winning races is what we are looking for and everything gets easier after. We’re going to press reset for Saturday and Sunday, and we’re going to do everything we can to win again.” While part of the group will line up for the Tour des Alpes-Maritimes, David Gaudu and Lenny Martinez will pin their next bib next week on O Gran Camino.

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