Weekend surge sees Martin rise to third
Irish rider still on Froome's tail after two gritty performances in Pyrenees
Ireland's Dan Martin is up to third place overall at the Tour de France after an aggressive weekend's racing in the Pyrenees saw him finish second to defending champion Chris Froome of Sky on Saturday's tough mountain stage to Bagneres-du-Luchon and 14th on yesterday's summit finish to Andorra.
Yesterday's 10km final climb to the Arcalis ski station in Andorra saw a nine-man breakaway contest the stage win, with Tom Dumoulin of Giant Alpecin riding away from his fellow escapees on the slope to finish more than six minutes clear of the peloton and take stage nine glory.
Dumoulin's victory had no impact on the race for the yellow jersey behind, where having begun the day just 17 seconds down on race leader Chris Froome, Martin gave it everything to make up that time on the ascent to the summit finish.
Martin's sizeable task was made all the more difficult by a torrential downpour which then turned into pebble-sized hailstones which pummelled the riders on the steep switchbacks of Arcalis.
Despite the biblical conditions, Martin hung on as the pace of Froome's Sky squad decimated the peloton and was first to respond when Froome's Colombian wingman Sergio Henao attacked with 5km to go.
Martin then attacked the group a kilometre later, with only last year's runner-up Nairo Quintana of Movistar able to follow.
Froome eventually clawed his way across but Martin's move had done serious damage and only the top five riders in the overall standings were able to hang on.
Still though, Martin wasn't finished and as the hail hopped off the road in front of him the Etixx-Quick-Step rider attacked again with two kilometres to go, this time keeping the pressure on at the front to open a sizeable gap on those rivals already dropped.
When Froome jumped clear in the final kilometres, it looked as though Martin would pay for his efforts as he drifted off the wheels before fighting to regain contact on the line, losing just two seconds in his race for yellow.
Martin moved to Andorra from his previous base in Girona last year to get better access to the high mountains in training.
The Arcalis climb is one of his regular training grounds but yesterday's tough conditions nullified his attempts to gain time on the ascent.
"Overall, I can't say the weather had an impact, but I'm sure it looked cooler on TV than it did from where I was sitting," said Martin afterwards.
"In the final kilometre there was a headwind, so it was difficult to try something there but I wanted to see what I could do, so I attacked a few times".
Martin is now just three seconds off second-placed Adam Yates of Orica Bike Exchange and 19 seconds off race leader Froome as the Tour heads into its first rest day today.
Despite moving into a podium spot on the Tour, with two weeks left to race, Martin doesn't consider himself a contender for overall glory yet.
"I don't consider myself a contender. Chris and Nairo are still the big favourites for the win. I'm third overall now, but I still want to take it day by day and try to get a stage win."
"I like riding again in the high mountains, Etixx-Quick-Step reminded me how to enjoy what I am doing and I can't say enough times how great this team is."
"I'm an aggressive rider, that's my nature, and I like to attack and fight for the win even if this means getting dropped, instead of sitting behind and fighting for second. But I'm happy with the way things are going for me in the GC, and hopefully a win is just around the corner."
Alberto Contador was one of four riders to call it a day on yesterday's stage, the Spaniard, who crashed twice in the first few days, climbing off and abandoning the race with 100km left.
The only other Irish rider in the Tour, Carrick-On-Suir sprinter Sam Bennett, continued to fight on after his opening-day crash required surgery and stitches to a hand wound, among other injuries.
Bennett is now last overall but if he can recover enough over the next few days, may well feature on one of the flatter sprint stages to come.
After a day off today, hostilities resume tomorrow, although a few easier days are expected before Thursday's stage features another mountain showdown, this time to the summit of Mont Ventoux.