When Lenny Martinez (Groupama-FDJ) dropped Romain Bardet (DSM-Firmenich) as the two reached the summit of stage 6 of the Vuelta a España at Javalambre on Thursday, it was tempting to see the symbolism and say that here was the top representative of one fading generation of French climbers being superseded by the next wave of young guns.
But appearances are deceptive: Bardet is only 12 years Martinez’s senior, and, as Bardet’s fine racing in this year’s Vuelta has already shown, the DSM leader surely has plenty of opportunities to shine in both the present and the future.
But on Thursday it was Martinez’s turn to step into the limelight, as the French first-year pro donned the red jersey of the race leader in his first-ever Grand Tour.
It’s a result that also makes Lenny Martinez, at 20 years and 51 days old, the youngest leader of the Vuelta, overtaking a record set by Miguel Indurain in the 1986 Vuelta, when ‘Big Mig’ held the top spot for four days at the precociously young age of 20 and 283 days in the first week.
The son and grandson of professional cyclists, Martinez said that his getting in the break of the day on stage 6 of the Vuelta, then challenging for the stage win, had not been in the plan.
“I just saw that there were a lot of moves going on, I jumped in the first one that I could and I managed to stay away to the finish,” he recounted.
“It’s a dream to have the lead, I will try to keep it as long as possible and I want to see what happens from here on.”
Already victorious ahead of seasoned climbers like Michael Woods (Israel-Premier Tech) in the CIC-Ventoux one-day race this summer, Javalambre winner Sepp Kuss said he was more than impressed by Martinez’s performance in the much more challenging context of a Vuelta a España stage.
However, Kuss warned that “we have to see what he can do from now on as well. It’s his first Grand Tour and he’s very strong, but a three-week race is very different to racing for one week or in a one-day Classic.”
Groupama-FDJ have a lengthy tradition of succeeding in taking the Vuelta lead ‘on loan’ in previous editions, and coincidentally Rudy Molard, who has twice had spells in la roja in previous editions, was present with Martinez in the break on Thursday.
But given Martinez’s climbing chops and impressive track record against far more experienced rivals to date, Kuss also indicated that the Frenchman could be a potential GC challenger in the mid to long-term as well.
Martínez did not say what kind of result in…