Monday 11 December 2017

Ireland's Dan Martin hails "incredible" day at the Tour de France

Dan Martin celebrates victory on stage nine of the Tour de France
Dan Martin celebrates victory on stage nine of the Tour de France

Ian Parker

Dan Martin followed in his uncle's footsteps as he became the first Irish winner of a Tour de France stage since Stephen Roche in 1992.

The Garmin-Sharp rider beat Astana's Jakob Fuglsang to the line in Bagneres-de-Bigorre after the pair had attacked off the front, five kilometres from the top of the final climb of the day, and then stayed ahead down the long descent into town.

Birmingham-born Martin became only the fifth Irishman to win a Tour stage, and the first since his uncle's victory on stage 16 of the 1992 Tour in La Bourboule.

"Every win is important and special in its own way," the 26-year-old said. "It was such an incredible day today because this team Garmin-Sharp shows such a team spirit.

"Everyone gave 100 per cent today and some of the guys nearly missed the time limit because they gave so much for my victory. We decided this morning on the bus that I was going to try and win the stage and we've succeeded so it's incredible."

Martin and Fuglsang made their move as the main contenders at the front of the race were engaged in an absorbing game of cat and mouse, with Chris Froome anxiously - and successfully - defending his yellow jersey against the likes of Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador, with his Team Sky team-mates nowhere to be found.

Although Fuglsang led the pair into town and towards the finish line, Martin was close behind and, after some nervous glances between the pair, he kicked out 250 metres from the line and Fuglsang could not answer.

"It's hard to describe how it feels; it's more relief actually because I knew I was the favourite coming into the sprint and I was quite confident, but I still had to do it," Martin added.

"To come across the line knowing that I've won a stage of the Tour de France is amazing. In the end, the scale of the event wasn't on my mind - it was just another bike race.

"I was so focused on his wheel and beating that guy in the sprint that I didn't even look behind once to see where the peloton was. It was just a case of focus on the finish line and get there first."

While this was Martin's first taste of Tour success, it was not his first in a Grand Tour as he won stage nine of the Vuelta a Espana in 2011, and he called on that experience today.

"I think there was a calmness that I developed in the sprint, rather than confidence," he said. "I've always had that sort of calmness, when I won the ninth stage of the Vuelta it was much the same sort of feeling.

"In the big situations I seem to be able to relax very well and just be in control and it pays off."

Martin follows in the footsteps not only for Roche but also Sean Kelly, Seamus Elliott, and Martin Earley in winning a Tour stage.

Martin was mentioned as an outside contender for this year's mountainous Tour thanks to his climbing ability and a proud uncle - who won the Tour in 1987 - tipped him for future success.

"The sky's the limit," Roche said. "He can challenge for the podium in the next few years."

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