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Redemption, for Dan Martin, lies in a yellow jersey atop the Mur de Huy.
Cannondale-Garmin’s punchy Irish climber has his eyes set on the Tour de France’s third stage, a mini Fleche-Wallone, complete with the same steep finish atop the Mur where Martin has twice finished in the top 5. It’s an early opportunity Martin can’t ignore, even as broader GC ambitions beckon, as he seeks to put a fruitless spring classics season behind him.
Martin sees the stage as a “chance at redemption” after a disappointing spring, plagued by injury and caught behind crashes in the key moments of his preferred Ardennes classics.
“Stage 3 stands head and shoulders above the rest of them,” he told VeloNews by phone on Monday. “I just hope I can get to the bottom of the Mur set up well for a victory. If that is the case I will be very optimistic.”
To keep dreams of the maillot jaune alive, he must confront an individual time trial in Utrecht, staying close to puncheurs like Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick-Step) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who time trial well and are sure to perform on the Mur, and a second stage likely to be ripped apart by coastal crosswinds.
Lose too much time on either stage and yellow — though not the stage win, of course — will fall out of reach.
“The dream would be to stay close enough to aim for the yellow jersey on stage 3. That would be an ideal world. I just gotta stay out of trouble for the first two days too,” Martin said.
“It is a grand tour and will be raced differently to a classic. I really think it is going to come down to the hill sprint up the Mur, and at the end of the day it may be a climb that suits me.”
After the Mur, Martin’s ambitions turn squarely to the general classification.
Martin enters the Tour as part of a three-pronged GC effort from Cannondale, alongside Andrew Talansky and 2012 Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal. But what appears from the outside to be a kitchen overflowing with cooks is anything but, Martin said, given the unpredictable first week laid out by Tour organizers.
Crosswinds through the Netherlands and more Roubaix cobbles on stage 5 are guaranteed to send a few overall contenders off the back or to the ground before the first rest day.
“I think it is going to be really important to have potential options for the time that first week could go very wrong,” Martin said. “It will be very much to our advantage to have a few cards to play.”
Martin has never raced on the cobbles, he said, and didn’t recon the sectors either. “I am just going to fly blind,” he said, laughing. “It is honestly probably best for me not to know. In training it would be different anyways.”
The three “Garmindales” enter the Tour on roughly equal footing. Hesjedal rode a wave of form in the last week of the Giro d’Italia into an improbable fifth, while Talansky and Martin both rode the Criterium du Dauphiné and finished inside the top 10. Martin showed slightly better form than his teammate on the Dauphiné’s longer climbs, but the Dauphiné is never a perfect predictor of Tour performance.
“It really was a surprise to come out of that with such a good Dauphiné,” he said. “You could see from my results throughout the week that I was getting better and better.”
A flat tire prevented a true test on the Dauphiné’s final stage, but Martin’s Garmin data suggested that he could have been in the mix.
“My Garmin said I was stopped for just over a minute so I don’t think I would have been too far away, he said. He lost only 31 seconds that day to stage winner Chris Froome (Sky).
And if the course doesn’t sort out team leadership? Martin isn’t worried.
“I think that we are all professionals, we all get on well. We have massive amounts of respect for each other and each other’s abilities. So it is going to be an exciting three weeks,” he said.