(Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Guillaume Martin is recovering among the donkeys

Your move, Thibaut Pinot.

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This Tour de France did not go as Guillaume Martin hoped it might. The Cofidis leader had steadily been working his way up the GC over the past five Tours de France, peaking as best Frenchman with eighth in 2021. This year, though, his high expectations collapsed on the morning of stage 9 with a positive COVID test. All those months of training, all that anticipation, up in smoke. 

So what does a pro do when the biggest goal of his season falls apart? If you’re Guillaume Martin, apparently, you seek out donkeys. 

Of the top French stars, Guillaume Martin flies a little under the radar compared to the likes of Thibaut Pinot. That’s the case with the two Frenchmen’s interest in farm animals, too. Pinot’s goats are social media celebrities with a line of merch, and he recently escalated matters with the addition of two baby cows, too. We know about these animals, and we like them very much. 

Guillaume Martin’s apparent fondness for donkeys first came onto our radar a few months ago in a pre-Giro d’Italia Instagram post. In that post, a few pictures across, a small baby donkey wobbles gamely alongside a larger mother donkey. It was, approximately, the best thing I saw all week. 

At that point, there were no indications to suggest these donkeys were owned by Martin himself – they were tagged in his Instagram stories to a boutique farm accommodation in Normandy. This realisation, as you will understand, immediately made them less exciting to me. I moved on with my life, a lingering regret simmering at some deep but primal point in my soul. 

Resolution came with Martin’s COVID-19 positive, when he posted a picture on Twitter, captioned “how it started / how it ended”. The first picture: Martin in a mask riding to sign on in Copenhagen. The second: Martin surrounded by donkeys. 

The hunt was on again. 

I returned to the earlier Guillaume Martin donkey pictures with renewed fervour, looking for clues in that farm accommodation from May. Domaine de la Bouderie was, the website said, a “domain in the middle of nature” capable of accommodating up to 30 people, “as well as work spaces (a dojo and a theater)”.

It was, a page deeper in the website promised, “the stronghold of the donkeys”, with a herd (fleet? armada?) of 15 of them at the disposal of guests. 

“You can share the complicity of one of our fifteen donkeys:

  • a pack donkey to carry your bags and/or a young child from 3 to 5 years old.
  • a donkey saddled like a horse for children up to 45 kilos.
  • a harnessed donkey for two adults or three children”

This page had my attention, as I’m sure you understand, but it didn’t resolve why Guillaume Martin retreated there in his time of need. 

Because I am a Proper Journalist, I decided to contact Domaine de la Bouderie to resolve my questions and ask whether he was on their farmstead, right now, recovering from a COVID-19 positive. To the ‘Contact & Info’ tab I went. And there it was, right in front of me the whole time: 

On the right, we have Guillaume Martin. In the middle, as a PDF download buried deeper yet in the website explained, is his mother. On the left is his girlfriend. 

Guillaume Martin is the co-owner of 15 donkeys.

More facts unspooled themselves, under the ‘Bike’ subheading of the ‘Our services’ menu. The Cofidis star had, I learned, grown up in this place, and in 2019 had started renovating the property as “a beautiful family project”. The roads of the region were “a formidable playground for his workouts”. 

That could – maybe should – have been enough, but I was still unsatiated. In short order, Domaine de la Bouderie received an email with a jaunty subject line (‘Bonjour!’, to really Trojan-horse my way in) and a sprinkling of questions about Guillaume’s donkeys. Did he have any favourites? What were their personality traits?

I am yet to receive a response, although a deep scroll of Instagram revealed some names: Valentin, Joyeux, Señorita, Aglaé, Ninon, Chang, Félicie, Sirius, Ulysse, Bibi, Gavroche, Eden, Pick and Puck, Ringo and Rocco. (I think one of those might be a pig and another a goat, but I don’t know which.)

To Team Cofidis’ media contact I went, with some slightly less to-the-point enquiries.

I started small. How is he recovering? (A: Fine, not suffering). Is he planning to ride the Vuelta? (A: Nothing is planned yet). Is he happy enough? (A: Yes, he just signed for another two years). 

Deep breath. Now the big one. 

Do you know any of the donkey’s personalities, his favourites, etc? 

Sadly no. Guillaume Martin will not give any interviews for the duration of the Tour. 

I’ve been mulling that response for most of the past five days, trying to work out how I could take this story further, to learn more about the temperament of the Martin donkeys. I pored over the Domaine de la Bouderie’s website and its Instagram profile – this peaceful little sanctuary in Normandy, where Guillaume Martin grew up and looks to the future. I thought of a nice, intellectual young man who had seen his Tour de France go up in smoke, retreating from the world to come to terms with his disappointment. 

And then, I decided to leave him, and his kind-looking family, and his friendly fleet of donkeys in peace. 

If you want to stay at Guillaume Martin’s beautiful looking farm B&B, complete with 15 complicit donkeys, visit www.domainedelaboderie.fr

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