Ireland's Dan Martin got his final pre-Tour de France stage race off to an inauspicious start yesterday when he finished 33 seconds behind surprise opening prologue time-trial winner Luke Durbridge of Orica GreenEdge at the Criterium Dauphine in Grenoble.
Martin is set to make his debut at the Tour de France for the Garmin Barracuda team in July and was back in action yesterday after a five-week lay-off. The 25-year-old cousin of Ag2r pro Nicolas Roche has been training rather than racing after a superb early season saw him take fourth overall at the Tour of Catalonia, fifth place at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, sixth at Fleche-Wallone and 14th overall at the Tour of Romandie in Switzerland.
"It's hard to know what's going to happen this week," said Martin yesterday. "It's been five weeks since my last race and the Dauphine is always a nervous, difficult race as a lot of guys are looking to earn selection to their Tour teams. I'm going in open-minded. Training's gone okay. I had a week or so off the bike after Romandie and slowly got back into it, but I've been concentrating on base work so I might lack a bit of top-end speed."
A strong climber and winner of a mountain stage at last year's Tour of Spain, Martin is hoping to come into form towards the end of the race, just in time for the Irish national championships in Clonmel on June 23 and the Tour de France a week later.
"The plan is that this week will bring me on well and leave me in top form in a couple of weeks," he said. "But at the end of the day I'm a racer so I'm sure to get stuck in and hopefully be in the front on a couple of days. It's also a good test with the long time trial, which is something I haven't done much of and will also be in the Tour."
Yesterday's prologue was won by Aussie time-trial champion Luke Durbridge, who finished in a time of six minutes and 38 seconds, just a single second faster than defending champion Bradley Wiggins of Sky.
Durbridge had the benefit of dry conditions as he was one of the early starters in the 5.7km test before rain showers and strong winds slowed some of the big names.
"I'm speechless," said a delighted Durbridge afterwards. "We knew the weather was supposed to get worse in the afternoon so my directeur sportif said I should start early and it worked out. This is the most important win of my career. I didn't worry about the riders that were to come too much. I was just chilling out as I waited. Finally, I went back to the bus with everyone, and we all watched the last couple of riders finish.
"There were about 10 of us together, and when Wiggins was out on the course, we worked out the time he would need to have to do to unseat me. He came through at the time we had identified, so we knew it would be close. When he crossed the line one second down, the bus erupted."
Wiggins too had reason to be happy, having beaten all of his rivals for overall victory but spared his Sky team-mates the task of defending the leader's jersey on today's opening road stage.