When Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) attacked over one kilometer from the finish line on the Mur de Bretagne, the most likely fan reaction was “No! Don’t do it! Too early!”
That’s a long, painful way to go when you’ve got Richie Porte (BMC Racing), Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton Scott) on your wheel.
Martin wait too long three years ago on the Mur when Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2R) took off. The Irishman never caught him and finished a disappointing second.
This time around, or should we say up, Martin wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. He went from distance and quickly opened a gap. It’s an agonizing haul up the Mur and with that many rivals, the assumption was he’d never hold it. He’d crack, swing off to the side and watch someone else grab the glory.
That scenario looked highly probably when Pierre Latour burst out of the select chase group and started erasing the gap. Latour was accelerating and surely Martin had already used up his wattage.
That’s when Martin somehow found the energy reserves to redouble his effort and open his lead again. There would be no runner-up booby prize this time. “It’s a great feeling to actually get a win again. So many second places at the Tour since the last one. I was a bit nervous because of the headwind, I didn’t think it was going to happen. 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,” said Martin.
It’s well-known that Martin races on instinct, not power meter. He read the tactical situation and said gas it. “I knew it was my only chance of winning the stage. If I’d waited for the sprint I wouldn’t have won, so I had to try. When I attacked, I didn’t look back til 500 meters to go, then I kept going and going and going. The legs just seemed to be there.”
Martin perhaps benefitted from his squad’s lackluster effort in the stage three team time trial in Cholet, where they coughed up 1:39 to the winning time of BMC. “I had already lost a bit of time before the stage, and I thought maybe they’d let me go. Today there was no question, I just attacked as hard as I could. It makes this Tour de France a success, and everything else will be a bonus.”
Actually, he’s hoping for a much bigger bonus. It was an impressive performance that provided the first tangible proof that Martin might have enough legs to call himself a GC threat in the 2018 Tour de France.
His fortunes went up on the same day that GC rivals Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) and Romain Bardet had bad luck. Bardet had to borrow a teammates’s bike to finish the Mur while a puncture with six kilometers to go left the Dutchman behind and even a committed chase with teammates couldn’t get him back to the front group. With an additional 20 second penalty for drafting his team car, he’d lose 1:13 while Bardet cosy 31 seconds.
It’s been a slow and bumpy start with Martin’s new team after he left Quickstep Floors. We wondered if the pressure of being top dog at UAE Team Emirates would put too much pressure on him. It always feels like Martin does best when he slips under the radar but a captain’s role makes invisibility difficult.
For Martin, that stress goes away as long as his mood is good — and perhaps the change of scenery is starting to pay dividends. “I race best when I’m happy and relaxed, and I’ve now seen that when I’m happy and relaxed, that translates into a happy and relaxed team and we all race well and believe in me. To sum up: When I’m happy, everyone is happy, especially when I win.”
Note to Martin upon arrival in Alps and Pyrenees: stay in front of Richie Porte. You’ve come a long way and you want to make it to Paris.