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“I won the Tour de France but I almost broke”

BarcelonaA few months before the women’s Tour de France in 1984, Marianna Martin (Fenton, United States, 1957) heard about this race in a conversation with friends she was out cycling with and could no longer think about nothing more. In a few weeks, she surprisingly proclaimed herself champion of the first edition of the Women’s Tour, a race that ended in 1989 due to lack of aid. This year the Tour has recovered its female version and the Strava brand, sponsor of the test, has invited Martin to receive a well-deserved tribute in the French capital.

How did she manage to win the women’s Tour de France when she was in Colorado working a few weeks earlier?

— Well, I’m not very clear, it surprised everyone. To me, the first. I didn’t expect it. I had always done sports, I went out for a run. But I got injured and they recommended cycling. So I made a gang with whom I went out on the roads of Colorado, where I live. They told me that I had a chance, that I could compete… and I was encouraged. It was them, who were great lovers of cycling, who read in a magazine that there would be a women’s Tour. And I was clear from the second that I wanted to be there, that I would do whatever it took. I didn’t care about anything else, not even qualifying for the Olympics that year in Los Angeles.

But he couldn’t prepare properly, could he?

— It must have been May and I was still at home participating in a race in Colorado. And he worked in a hotel, at the reception. In the trials to decide which women would compete in the Olympics I was left out, as I was coming off anemic. But little by little I was feeling fit and I knew that whoever was in charge of deciding who would make the American team in the Tour had not yet decided the last place. A friend of mine knew the coach, Edward Borysewicz, so he arranged a date for me where I asked him to let me go to France. I convinced him. And a few weeks later he was already in France to participate in the race. He thinks I was part of a very small amateur team then. So I had normalized that I had to pay for everything. I had to pay for the trip to New York and then fly to Paris. I was so happy that I didn’t even think I would get paid anything, it seemed utopian.

How much did he get paid to win that Tour?

— One thousand dollars. And I was so happy… In fact, I shared them with the rest of the team, because it had taken us all a long time to get there. You didn’t compete with money in mind.

But that year’s winner on the Men’s Tour took home more than $250,000…

— Yes, it was normal. I was so happy to be in France and to have won that I couldn’t even think about the differences. We did some stages before the men’s race and the atmosphere on the road was great. In the end we stood on the same podium as the male winners, in front of a crowd. I couldn’t even believe it. Then you compare it with other eras and see how it has improved…but basically I wouldn’t change anything about what I experienced.

To dedicate himself to cycling, however, was utopian.

– Yes. He thinks I won the Tour but I almost ruined myself. I came back with no money and had to work for two years in Los Angeles, combining it with racing, to repay the debts. Unfortunately, I got sick again, a very strong anemia that has been with me all my life. But I’m happy with how everything went. It was hard for me, but I finally found a job that I like, I’m a photographer. And I keep cycling, of course.

How did your family manage to follow your results when you were on the Tour?

— My sister, who has always been very clever, managed to follow them. I think theUSA Today he published the results, but she found a way to find out the same day. When I called on the phone, she already knew. My father, on the other hand, did not quite see clearly what he was doing. I called her and told her that I was going first, that I was euphoric. And he, who had never supported me in sports, seemed cold. Well, the last stage arrives, we go through the Champs Elysées and suddenly I hear a voice… it was him! I got really excited, I started to scream. It was his way of showing that he was happy. Instead of telling me, he got on a plane. It was very emotional, because in the first days of the race nobody paid attention to us, but once it was explained that an American woman was leading the race, all the journalists from my country started leaving the men’s race to follow the last ones our stages I ended up going out to the New York Times.

That 1984 Fignon said he liked women, but not on a bicycle, but doing other things.

— There were always comments like that, but I ignored them. My father had never believed it. In fact, when I finished university I wanted to treat myself as a present and I asked for a bicycle. He gave me a camera. When I was a child and read that a man had crossed the United States from end to end on a bicycle, I asked my parents if a woman could do it. The father was silent, but the mother said to me: “You can do what you set your mind to.”

When did you realize you could win the Tour?

— In the first mountain stage, when I attacked. What I wanted was to show that I rode very well in the mountains, that I was a good climber. My dream was to be able to win the classification of the mountain and get the colored jersey of the mountain, which I love, with the red spikes. I said it was the polka dot sweater (take a smile). Then the strongest female cyclists were the Dutch. I started to have a big difference about the group, even though I was sure I was going to get caught. But no, they didn’t. Then there was a stage with the end in Morzine and I was sure that the Dutchwoman Hage would catch me, but I knew how to withstand her attacks. It was very nice, it was purer cycling, I would say, because you didn’t have anyone to tell you on the radio where your rivals were. And without help, I always knew where everyone was. You had great control over your rivals. I have very good memories of that time, it was beautiful cycling. Also the sweaters were nicer, I would say.

And, proudly, she shows the yellow jersey of the champion and the queen of the mountain of the 1984 Tour.

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