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Third in the Tour de France at the end of the first week, the French Guillaume Martin achieved one of the best performances of his career. Holder of a master’s degree in philosophy, the Normand is an atypical figure in the peloton, author of a play and able to discuss the metaphysics of the cyclist.
What could Socrates have thought on a bicycle? The question may seem incongruous. However, this is the kind of questions that run through Guillaume Martin’s head. The cyclist, third at the end of the first week of the Tour de France, combines sporting performance and love of philosophy, from which he is a graduate.
His essay “Socrates by bike: the Philosophers’ Tour de France” (Grasset Edition) was reissued at the end of June 2020. The professional runner has fun imagining what the “vélosophes” – neologism designating the “cycling philosophers” , Sartre, Aristote, Nietzsche, Pascal – would think while running the most prestigious of cycling competitions. This philosophical fable aims to overcome the clichés making sport and thought two contradictory notions. “You have to think as a man of action and act as a man of thought”, as Guillaume Martin likes to point out, quoting Bergson.
You only have to see the results of the Cofidis rider to prove him right. The 27-year-old Norman climber has shown a sparkling state of form since the resumption of the cycling season: currently third in the Tour de France, he has also finished third in the Criterium du Dauphiné, the Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge and the Classique de l ‘Ardèche.
Theater, aikido and family farm
Born in Paris, little Guillaume Martin spent his youth in Normandy. The son of an actress and director and a typographer who converted to aikido teacher, he grew up in La Boderie, in the countryside. His parents built their little utopia there, by restoring an old abbey transformed into a living space, theater, dojo, farm and typography museum.
The cyclist’s first loves are logically theater and aikido. Then, his father, a former amateur runner, took him for his first walks in the Normandy countryside. Guillaume Martin finally took a license at the age of 13 with the Etoile cycliste club in Condé-sur-Noireau, at the gates of Normandy Switzerland. If the local highlight, Mount Pinçon (348 meters) has nothing to do with the high peaks on which the riders of the Tour de France compete, Guillaume Martin made his debut as a climber.
He quickly entered the sports-studies stream and obtained a literary baccalaureate one year in advance. Then direction the hypokhâgne and the khâgne [classes préparatoires au concours d’entrée à l’École normale supérieure] at the Lycée Chateaubriand in Rennes, before taking a master’s degree in philosophy by correspondence at Nanterre, which he obtained in June 2015.
At the same time, he never stopped racing among amateurs and he ended up joining the professional pelotons in 2016 … Less known than Romain Bardet, less expected than Thibaut Pinot, more discreet than Julian Alaphilippe, Guillaume Martin achieved his first performances in relative anonymity, which he explained in part by the fact that he was racing for Circus-Wanty Gobert, the Belgian second division team. If the rider multiplies the top 10 in the races, he still lacks a prestigious victory in a great race to confirm his talent.
Reconcile sport and spirit
“The intellectuals do not even imagine the constraints of professional sport. For them, it is not serious. Likewise, in the peloton, few are interested in my background,” he explains in West France. “In my humble measure, I try to fight the clichés. But I don’t want to be a standard bearer either.”
He discovered the Tour de France in 2017. Le Monde then asked him to write a weekly column in its columns. The opportunity for the runner to take up a pen and discuss the “gargantuan banquets” runners after a stage or on the “life of a mountebank” convicts of the road. For his first time, he is ranked 23. A ranking that he continues to improve: 21e in 2018 and 12e in 2019.
At the same time, he wrote a play “Plato versus Platoche”, which partly explores the sport and spirit dichotomy: the comic and fictionalized story of the great ancient philosopher Plato, torn between a life of intellectual speculation and his desire. action. Staged by the runner’s mother, the play is performed at the Boderie family theater but also at the Avignon festival.
Already, to obtain his master’s degree in philosophy, Guillaume Martin had written and defended a thesis, which united his two passions, sport and Friedrich Nietzsche. “Modern Sport: An Application of Nietzschean Philosophy.”
The Norman is the slayer of Pierre de Coubertin, the father of Olympism and fair play to which he opposes the German philosopher: “The important thing for me is not to participate. That’s what ‘writes Nietzsche in’ Thus Spoke Zarathustra ‘:’ I do not advise you peace but victory. ‘ Basically, Nietzsche allowed me to think better about sport and sport allowed me to think better about Nietzsche. “
Guillaume Martin has two weeks left to reverse the trend in the Tour de France against Primoz Roglic and Egan Bernal. And to prove, as a good apostle of Nietzsche, that only victory is beautiful.