At the top of the first ever ascent of Arinsal, in Andorra, Lenny Martinez faced his first Grand Tour test on Monday. He passed it quite brilliantly. In the third stage of the Vuelta, the young climber from Groupama-FDJ stayed with the big favorites until the very end, despite several attacks in the last three kilometres, and eventually took a superb seventh place on the line, surrounded by the race’s best riders. A huge performance for his first time at this level, which also allowed him to move up to third place overall, eleven seconds behind Remco Evenepoel, the winner and new red jersey. He will wear the best young rider’s jersey instead of the Belgian on stage 4 on Tuesday.

Third day of racing, and already a summit finish this Monday on the Vuelta a Espana. The bunch left Catalonia to get to Andorra, after a hundred kilometres. From then on, the terrain became much harder with the ascent of the long and rolling Coll d’Ordino (17.5 km at 5%) then the steep final climb of Arinsal (8.2 km at 7.8%). At the start, many considered this day as a great opportunity to go for the stage win or the red jersey through the breakaway, including within the Groupama-FDJ cycling team. “We wanted to go in the breakaway because we didn’t know what EF Education-EasyPost was going to do regarding the jersey and we didn’t know either if the big teams were going to fight for the stage”, explained Benoît Vaugrenard. “So we thought that if there was a solid breakaway, it would be good to have Michael, or even Rudy or Romain in there. Michael tried hard but he was caught, then a counterattack of nine riders went out, and we quickly understood that Jumbo-Visma and Soudal-Quick Step wanted to go for the stage. It was disappointing to miss the break, but we didn’t have too many regrets either.”

“Happy to finish with the big names”, Lenny Martinez

It took nearly forty kilometres to see a group of eleven men establish itself with Damiano Caruso, Lennard Kämna, Pierre Latour or Eduardo Sepulveda. Their margin was however contained to five minutes at best, and even reduced to three minutes passing through Andorra la Vella, bottom of the ascent of Coll d’Ordino. Clément Davy and Lorenzo Germani then moved Lenny Martinez back up front for this long, rolling climb, which still did some damage in the bunch. “Rudy and Michael had to position Lenny at the top of the penultimate climb for the downhill that was super technical”, indicated Benoît. “It was important not to get to the bottom of the last climb with a delay, and it went pretty well”. Thanks to a pull from the Australian, the French climber came back up perfectly before the descent, and once the latter was over, Rudy Molard made a last effort for his young teammate. Approaching the Arinsal climb, around fifty men were still in the bunch, one minute away from the last men standing from the break. “The favorite teams looked at each other a bit, and we just had to wait for them to accelerate and then follow them as long as possible”, said Benoît. This is what Lenny tried to do, quite calmly.

The former rider from “La Conti” first followed the very fast pace of UAE Team Emirates entering the last four kilometres, then didn’t crack under the attacks of Juan Ayuso, Sepp Kuss and Marc Soler in the final. In the last two kilometres, the young French rider even found himself side by side with the main favorites of the Vuelta. A dozen men eventually regrouped after the flamme rouge, and a reduced group finish was set to occur. The man from Groupama-FDJ tried to hold his place among the best ones and was finally able to deliver a very solid sprint to take seventh place on the line, one second behind the winner Remco Evenepoel. “The day went well, the whole team helped me and put me in perfect conditions, then it came down to the legs in the final”, explained Lenny. “I’m happy to finish with the big names. It’s the Vuelta, so I’m happy with my performance”. “Lenny did a great climb, he paced himself well and managed to follow the group who fought for the win”, said Benoît. “It’s a nice stage for him and it puts him in third place overall. It’s a good day for us.”

“We’ll keep moving forward, slowly but surely”, Benoît Vaugrenard

Thanks to the great opening team time trial, the neo-pro indeed reached the podium of the general classification, eleven seconds behind Belgian champion Remco Evenepoel. The “discovery” of a Grand Tour could hardly go better. “Yesterday was for Romain, today for Lenny, and they are with the best”, added Benoît. “It is good for their confidence. We’ll keep moving forward, slowly but surely.” As an icing on the cake, Lenny Martinez will start with the white jersey on Tuesday, instead of Remco Evenepoel, already wearing the red. “It’s going to be great,” said Lenny on Monday night. “A first distinctive jersey on a Grand Tour, it still makes an impact”, completed Benoît. On stage 4, the peloton will join Tarragona for a probable first bunch sprint.

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