Liège, Belgium (VN) — Daniel Martin (Garmin-Barracuda) edged close again to a win in one of cycling’s monuments at Liège-Bastogne-Liège yesterday.
“He showed he can do it with second place in Tour of Lombardy,” Sean Kelly told VeloNews. “He’s on road to a win.”
Kelly won Liège-Bastogne-Liège two times and Lombardy three times in the 1980s to early 1990s. He keeps close eye over Martin, who is also Irish.
He found the 25-year-old at the Garmin bus to congratulate him after his fifth place. The result closed a successful Ardennes week, with sixth place in Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday. It’s also another top performance in a monument following last year’s second place in the Giro di Lombardia behind Oliver Zaugg.
Zaugg attacked free on the final climb, but Martin led the chase into Lecco.
“A win in Liège? We’ll see about that one, but it is obviously a dream to win this race, but now becoming a realistic dream,” Martin said. “The team showed belief in me after my Lombardy performance and that gave me confidence over the winter to make these races an objective.”
Martin could hardly stand and preferred to sit on the hood of the Garmin team car. A storm cloud rolled in above, but he kept covered by a puffy jacket and stocking cap. He had battled the elements all day with co-captain Ryder Hesjedal, who placed ninth, and looked pleased.
“The rain was freezing cold, I could hardly feel my hands. I could hardly change gears,” he continued. “I think you saw that in the final, nobody had legs and nobody could make a difference.”
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) flew free on the Roche aux Faucons with 20 kilometers remaining, and Martin and Hesjedal were briefly dropped. They re-joined the chase group, but Maxim Iglinsky (Astana) broke free and caught Nibali to win. Martin countered with Pierre Rolland (Europcar) and gained himself breathing room for the Saint Nicolas climb.
“I’m pretty happy, I’ve never been in the final in this race before,” Martin said. “It shows progression.”
Tre Valli Varesine stands as Martin’s big one-day win. He won the Italian classic in 2010 using his climbing skills, the same skills he applied to win a stage in the Vuelta a España last year.
“I came here [to the Ardennes] to get results and it’s the first time I’ve ever showed myself in these races. I seem to be getting stronger every year,” Martin explained. “These races are a lot about experience as well; there was a couple times where I definitely lacked experience, but I think we are getting there now. It’s been a good week.”
“It takes some guys time,” Kelly added. “It took me six to seven years before I could win a big classic. It takes time to develop and to get that stamina. Every year he’s improving and going the right direction. That’s what it’s all about.”