Surging Martin climbs 'the wall' to earn stage victory
Ireland's Dan Martin heralded a glorious return to form yesterday with a fine solo victory on stage six of the Tour de France in Brittany.
Five years after his first stage win and the last Irish victory on the Tour, at Bagneres-du-Bigorres in the Pyrenees, Martin took glory on the shorter but equally steep slopes of the aptly named Mur de Bretagne, or 'Wall of Brittany'.
Having been boxed in the last time the Tour finished on the Mur three years ago, the punchy climber made no mistake this time when jumping off the front of the peloton with 1,200m to go and opening a gap on the highest point of the climb.
Sensing the danger, overall contenders Richie Porte of BMC and Sky's Geraint Thomas were the first of many to unsuccessfully try to close Martin down.
As the climb wore on, a strong headwind and a dramatic last- minute chase by Pierre Latour of Ag2r saw Martin just hold on by a mere second to claim victory from the Frenchman on the line, with Alejandro Valverde of Movistar a further two seconds back in third.
It was a heart-thumping finale that immediately had Martin thinking of wife Jess, who was watching at home and is expecting twins in October.
“My first thoughts are that I hope my wife hasn’t gone into labour,” smiled Martin as he caught his breath. “It’s a great feeling to get a win again. I’ve had so many second places at the Tour since the last one.”
Having finished sixth on the previous day’s uphill finish and remembering back to his second place behind another Ag2r rider, Alexis Vuillermoz, when the Tour was last on the Mur-de-Bretagne back in 2015, Martin gambled on an early attack yesterday.
Ultimately, it paid dividends, even if he admitted afterwards to being worried for a brief period.
“I was really relaxed all day – not over-confident, but looking forward to having a crack, looking forward to racing hard on the last climb.
“The race went so hard on the first part of the climb, I saw everyone was on the limit and there were no teammates left, so why not have a try?
“I just attacked as hard as I could. I was a bit nervous because of the headwind. I didn’t think it was going to happen, but the legs just were there.
“I could see Latour coming. I don’t know what happened – maybe adrenaline – but I wasn’t going to let anyone beat me.”
After a somewhat inauspicious start to the season with his new UAE Emirates team, Martin showed a timely return to form last month when he won a stage and finished fourth overall at the week-long Criterium du Dauphine, the final pre-Tour tune-up for most of the pre-race favourites.
While his team once again showed cracks when finishing 15th of 22 squads in the stage three team time trial in Cholet last Monday, Martin’s victory yesterday sees him move into 21st place overall, a minute and 27 seconds behind current race leader Greg Van Avermaet of BMC.
Yesterday’s steep finale saw Sky duo Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas among those who lost a handful of seconds along with Porte, Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Movistar duo Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa.
Great French hope Romain Bardet (Ag2r) and last year’s Giro d’Italia winner Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) were the biggest losers among the overall favourites, losing 31 seconds and 53 seconds respectively.
- Tour de France, Live, Eurosport 1, 12.20/TG4 12.40