Having taken a fantastic solo victory on the toughest mountain stage of the race, Dan Martin ensured overall victory at the week-long Tour of Catalonia with some clever riding over the last two stages at the weekend.
Martin's victory by 36 seconds on top of the snow-capped Port Aine on Thursday was enough to see him don the green and white race leader's jersey, giving him a 10-second lead over last year's world number one Joaquin Rodriguez, and with solid backing from his Garmin Sharp team-mates, he managed to increase that lead to 17 seconds before yesterday's final stage.
Despite numerous attacks on the tough finishing circuit in Barcelona, Martin remained calm and simply marked nearest rival Rodriguez on each of eight ascents of Alto Montjuic.
"I knew I just had to focus on his back wheel and I did that for the last two laps," said a delighted Martin. "He didn't get more than a metre in front of me for the last two laps. Everybody was throwing attacks down, some of the best riders in the world, but I had Ryder (Hesjedal) and Tom (Danielson) in the select group with me at the finish to nullify any attacks."
The only real threat to Martin's lead was an attack by Michele Scarponi of Lampre in the final two laps. Scarponi, who began the day in fifth overall, opened a gap of 35 seconds at one point and with a possible 10-second time bonus on offer if he won the stage, the Italian veteran could well have overcome his deficit of 55 seconds to take overall victory.
"Scarponi's attack missed my radar to be honest," admitted Martin afterwards. "I knew I had a good advantage over everybody else, except for Rodriguez and I was just focussing on him, but it worked out in the end."
Twenty-eight seconds after lowly placed Thomas de Gendt of Vaconsoleil took the stage victory ahead of David Lopez (Sky), Robert Kiserlovsky (Astana) and Scarponi, Martin finished safely in the peloton to join Sean Kelly on the short list of Irish winners of the race.
"I didn't realise how happy I was going to be with this win," said a delighted Martin. "It was a big relief to get across the finish line having been second overall twice and fourth before. I wasn't even supposed to come to this race. I was a last minute addition to be honest. Tirreno-Adriatico a couple of weeks ago was pretty much my first race. We had a rough team time trial with a couple of incidents and I pretty much got taken out of the GC there, but I came out of that race so well, that when the team saw how I was progressing there, they thought I could come here and perform well. The back-up I've had this week was incredible. The team showed belief in me and I really fed off that."
Martin has lived in nearby Girona for the past five years and his pidgin Catalan in post-race interviews has helped endear him to the locals.
"I only know about 50 words, but I can understand it pretty well," he said. "There were a lot of Catalan people out there today shouting my name because I've been speaking Catalan on TV after each stage, but the support from back home has been incredible. The number of messages I've had on twitter, I've ever seen anything like it."