Sunday 22 April 2018

Martin over moon after 'incredible' first Tour stage win

Family fortunes revived as Garmin-Sharp team tactics enable Irish ace to emulate Roche glory

Ireland’s Daniel Martin celebrates as he wins the 168.5 km ninth stage of the centenary Tour de France from Saint-Girons to Bagneres-de-Bigorre
Ireland’s Daniel Martin celebrates as he wins the 168.5 km ninth stage of the centenary Tour de France from Saint-Girons to Bagneres-de-Bigorre

Gerard Cromwell

Twenty-one years after his uncle Stephen Roche climbed out of the mist at the summit of La Bourboule to take his final Tour de France stage victory, Dan Martin put Irish cycling back on the map when he took his first Tour stage win at the end of a tortuous Stage 9 in Bagneres de Bigorres.

On an epic stage which saw the peloton tackle no fewer than four first-category climbs, Martin's Garmin-Sharp squad stated their intent early, with an attack after just 12km by David Millar and Jack Bauer setting the tone for what was to be an extremely aggressive day's racing.

"It was an incredible team effort all day," said a jubilant Martin afterwards. "This Garmin-Sharp team shows such team spirit. We made the race today. From the very beginning, we had David and Jack in the breakaway and then we had me, Ryder (Hesjedal) and Tom Danielson in the breakaway.

"Everyone gave 100pc 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... It's incredible. It was an incredible ride from the guys and I just had to finish it off in the end."

With a conveyor belt of attacks jumping off the front, race leader Chris Froome soon found himself isolated on the first climb, the Col de Portet d'Aspet, as, one by one, his Sky team-mates fell by the wayside – literally in the case of young Pete Kennaugh, who ended up down a small ravine when he was nudged off the side of the road on the climb.

Forcing

As Martin crested the summit in second place, the Saxo-Tinkoff team of his cousin Nicolas Roche – and race favourite Alberto Contador – and the Movistar squad of Alejandro Valverde combined to make life hard for Froome, eventually leaving the race leader with no team-mates and forcing a small, select group clear for the rest of the day.

As more attacks came over the next 100km, Martin bided his time in the front group until about 3km from the summit of the final climb of La Hourquette d'Ancizan, where he jumped clear and was followed by Danish rider Jakob Fuglsang of the Astana team.

"I knew the final 30km quite well from before and I was lucky that Jakob came with me because I don't think one guy would have survived alone," said a delighted Martin afterwards. "He was super strong as well and I was very grateful to have him up front."

The duo built up a maximum lead of 42 seconds on the final 30km descent to the line but, with the favourites group closing to within 25 seconds with 8km to go, it was touch and go whether they would stay clear to the finish.

"I was praying to get caught with 20km to go because my legs were hurting so much," admitted Martin afterwards. "I knew I had to keep pushing every turn, pushing through. We were both giving it everything we could."

In the final kilometre, the canny Martin forced Fuglsang to the front before jumping into a final tight left-handed corner with 175m to go and outsprinting the Dane to take the biggest victory of his career thus far.

"I knew the last corner was crucial. I was quite confident of being a faster sprinter than Jakob but you never know what could happen. You could get a bit of cramp at the wrong moment.

"I knew what I was doing. I was very confident. I think that comes from the victories I've achieved this year. I've got some self-belief now and have a calmness in those situations but 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. So to come across the line knowing that I've won a stage of the Tour de France is amazing."

Although he has already claimed a stage victory at the Tour of Spain and also won the Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic earlier this year, Martin's victory yesterday is the biggest of his career thus far.

"In the end, the scale of the event wasn't on my mind," he said. "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. I've always had that sort of calmness, like 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's stage win and advantage over the chase group also saw him move up the overall standings to eighth, two minutes and 28 seconds behind race leader Chris Froome as the Tour heads for its first rest day today.

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