He won’t turn 20 until next month, but Lenny Martinez is already one of the “big boys”. On the major mountain stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné this Saturday, the Groupama-FDJ rider once again showed all his abilities. On the last climb of the day, he managed to join the fight between the main favorites and reached the summit of the Col de la Croix de Fer in a group playing fifth place. Eventually twelfth on the line, one minute and sixteen seconds behind the winner and yellow jersey Jonas Vingegaard, the young man climbed to seventeenth place overall before a really hard last stage towards Grenoble on Sunday.
Less than 150 kilometres, but more than 4000 meters of elevation gain. This was the day’s menu on the Critérium du Dauphiné. After fifty flat kilometres as a starter, the climbs of La Madeleine and Le Mollard made up the main course before a spicy dessert: the Col de la Croix de Fer. This stage was also historical in a way, as the race never located a finish line that high (2067 meters). Although the day was made for the GC contenders, the Groupama-FDJ team decided to anticipate the main battle on stage 7, and Reuben Thompson managed to get up front in the first part of the race. However, the New Zealander never managed to bridge across the very first breakaway, and therefore remained in-between with three men for nearly eighty kilometres. Following this nice escape, which also allowed him to pass the summit of the Col de la Madeleine in seventh position, the former “Conti” rider was caught starting the Col du Mollard, less than 40 kilometres from the finish. Already much reduced at that point, the peloton continued to lose a few riders on this climb. They then caught Victor Campenaerts, the last man standing, at the bottom of the Col de la Croix de Fer (13 km at 6%, with the last six averaging more than 8%).
“I handle the succession of climbs better”, Lenny Martinez
The long-awaited fight among the big guys was therefore set to happen, but at first, the bunch remained in a long line due to a suffocating pace on the first, rolling part of the climb. Six kilometres from the summit, the slope got tougher, and it only took a few hundreds of metres to see the yellow jersey Jonas Vingegaard flying away, alone. Slightly in the back, Lenny Martinez jumped from group to group and then found himself with riders like Ben O’Connor, Jai Hindley, Dani Martinez or even Jack Haig. The young man made quite an impression and followed to the wheels of the best until the end. Some managed to break away approaching the summit, but Lenny Martinez was able to reach the finish within a group fighting for fifth place. “I didn’t manage to contest the sprint, I missed a little something,” he said at the finish line. “I went as deep as possible. I need to be dead when I cross the line, otherwise I do have regrets. I’m still happy to be up there, after a nice and fast succession of climbs. At the start of the season, I was struggling a bit regarding that particular point, but I feel that I have strengthened my engine and that I handle it better now”. Eventually, the 19-year-old grabbed twelfth place of the day, 1’16 behind Vingegaard but just around twenty seconds from the podium. “What Lenny is doing is great, he’s up to the expectations”, commented Philippe Mauduit. “He did a superb stage.”
“We need to go through this moment”, Philippe Mauduit
His remarkable performance also enabled him to move up twelve positions in the general classification on Saturday. He now sits in 17th place, 5’35 behind the Danish leader and just over a minute from the top-10. As for David Gaudu, he took 23rd place at the top of the Col de la Croix de Fer, three minutes behind Vingegaard, and is now just outside the top-20 overall (22nd). “It makes sense given the last few days”, confided Philippe. “There were no miracles and there won’t be any tomorrow either, especially on this kind of stage. David is where he belongs at the moment. Like any competitor, he doesn’t want to be there, but that’s part of the game. We need to go through this moment and learn from it. David always had ups and downs, and he showed he can handle downs in order to bounce back. Once again, it’s part of high-level sport. The riders are still humans who can under-perform, even if we try to make sure that they do it as little as possible”. On Sunday, the Critérium du Dauphiné will end with less altitude, but with a stage still very demanding. The finish will be located at the top of the “wall” of La Bastille, on the heights of Grenoble.