SARZEAU, France (VN) — The Tour de France is just a few days old, and already Dan Martin’s campaign has taken a few twists and turns.
Martin was among the major beneficiaries of Saturday’s messy opening stage into Fontenay-le-Comte. He finished safely in the lead group as several big names — like Chris Froome (Sky), Richie Porte (BMC), and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) — lost time in the finale. The move put Martin nearly a minute up on his rivals.
On Monday, Martin’s advantage quickly evaporated after the team time trial reshuffled the standings. Martin’s UAE Team Emirates finished 1:39 down on stage winner BMC, bumping the Irishman back to 39th place overall, 1:38 in arrears. He sits 43 seconds back on Froome and 47 seconds back to Porte.
Martin remained upbeat about his positioning.
“To only be 40 seconds behind Froome and Richie, it’s a lot better than it could have been,” Martin said.
Without the TTT firepower of Sky or BMC, UAE was expected from the outset to ship time in the 35.5-kilometer test in Cholet. It won’t be easy for Martin to claw back that time, even in the mountains, but he can be content to have kept the deficit under two minutes.
“Yesterday was always going to be a big time loss for us. It doesn’t look too bad after what we achieved in stage 1, avoiding the crash,” he said.
“When you’re riding against teams that are specialists in the TTT, it wasn’t going to be easy. We stuck to the plan and limited our losses pretty well I think.”
Before he’ll be able to put too much effort into planning his surge back up the leaderboard in the mountains, Martin will need to survive the next few days of messy sprints and possibly crosswinds along the French coast.
He’s managed well so far. Indeed, Martin said that despite the apparent chaos of the first few days, the Tour has still been tamer than it could have been.
“It’s been a lot better than maybe we expected. It’s just the last 20 or 30 kilometers, guys are really getting stressed,” he said. “I think the heat is also playing a part. Obviously it’s very hot. Your concentration drifts, keeping focus is more difficult.”
Beyond the daily fight to stay upright in the peloton, the next notable challenge for the GC might be Thursday’s stage 6 to Mur de Bretagne. Two kilometers at 6.9 percent, the final climb won’t likely blow up the field, but could certainly see small gaps among the top finishers.
Martin, whose punchy skillset has propelled him to wins at both Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia, will be among the pre-stage favorites on the day. He finished second there in stage 8 of the 2015 Tour de France, when Ag2r’s Alexis Vuillermoz nabbed the win.
That said, Martin was hesitant to confirm himself as a top contender considering his evolution as a rider.
“A few years ago for sure, but I seem to be becoming a bit more of a pure climber as the years go on. We’ll give it a crack,” he said.
Martin’s UAE team will also look to make an impact in the cobbled ninth stage with Alexander Kristoff, former winner of the Tour of Flanders. For Martin himself, however, the trip over the pavé will be all about survival.
“It’s brutal. I reconned it last week just to do it as close to the race as possible,” he said.
If Martin can make it safely to Roubaix, he’ll have earned a rest day and a trip to more friendly terrain. Stage 10 takes the peloton into the Alps, and it is there that Martin can hope to really start doing damage — though he’s not expecting anything to come easy, even after dropping down the leaderboard in the TTT.
“There’s a hell of a lot of GC guys in this race,” he said. “If we’re further back, I’ll be lower on the list of people to follow, but I saw last year that I didn’t seem to get a lot of leeway even when I was a couple of minutes down. It’s something I’ve learned, not to persist in attacking when you’re a marked man, but we’ll see. I need to get to the mountains first with the same time gap.”