Martínez pedaled toward the 1km to go banner on the slopes of Puy Marie during Friday’s 13th stage with Bora-Hansgrohe teammates Lennard Kämna and Max Schachmann on his wheel. The smart move was to bet on Bora, since the two-against-one scenario spelled certain doom for Martínez. But in a dramatic twist of fate, Martínez upended the script, dropping Schachmann inside 500 meters to go and then sprinting past Kämna for the stage win.
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“I was scared when I was along against the two Bora riders. At the end of the stage when they were the only ones left with me and I saw they were close, I tried to follow for a bit,” Martinz said. “But then I worked and worked and gave everything on the climb. With 5km to go, I saw they were both struggling, and I could see that Kämna couldn’t hold his sprint and I knew that I could beat him.”
The victory marked a major milestone for the U.S.-registered WorldTour team, which had been winless at the Tour de France since 2017, back when the squad was still named Cannondale-Drapac. Martínez’ stage win is another sign that EF Pro Cycling is riding high in the return to racing. Last month Martínez won the overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné, and currently the team’s GC star, Rigoberto Urán, is in fourth place in the Tour’s GC standings.
“All the tactics in the world couldn’t win that race in the end — it was down to sheer will from Dani,” said the team’s CEO Jonathan Vaughters of the win. “It’s so, so rare a rider is able to win from a 2-against-1 situation like that, and the fact that he did it is unreal and shows not only his talent, but also his moxie. You can’t teach that stuff. He’s just got it. I’m happy for Dani and I’m so happy for our entire team, working the race and at home. This thing ain’t over yet.”
The win marks a turnaround at this Tour for Martínez, who came into the race as one of EF’s three-pronged GC attackers, only to see his hopes of a high finish in Paris evaporate early. Martínez struck a traffic island and crashed during the thrilling finale on stage 2 into Nice, and he lost more than two minutes to the main bunch after chasing for several kilometers in vain. The time loss mean his run at the yellow jersey was over, and Martínez suffered painful bumps and bruises in the pileup.
Several stages later EF’s two-headed GC attack became just one after Sergio Higuita was dropped in the Pyrénées. Suddenly, the U.S. team’s options were running low.
“After the crash and after losing quite a bit of time I wasn’t there mentally,” Martínez said. “But then I told myself I had to move on and I will fight for a stage win. I was looking for stages I could win and I just won this one.”
Rather than quit, the U.S. squad went on the attack. Young American rider Neilson Powless attacked on stages 5 and 8, riding long breakaways to the finish. Then, EF threw multiple cards into the fray on Friday, with Hugh Carthy, Powless, and Martínez all making the day’s long breakaway. The three helped drive the move on until it seemed destined to reach the finish line alone. Then, it was Powless who attacked on the penultimate climb of the day.
The American was joined by Schachmann, whose steady pedaling dropped Powless on the final push to the line. Hearing that his teammate was dropped, Martínez attacked out of the group behind in an effort to win. But his move was marked by Kämna, and the numerical advantage tipped in Bora’s favor.
“The guys rode great today putting three of them in the move from the start,” said Tom Southam, EF’s sport director. “It was a really difficult start and we got the right guys in there. It was going to be a bit tricky with the composition of the break but a lot of them were pretty tired so it just kind of came down to who was the best, even when Dani was in a bit of a tight spot with the two Bora guys.”
Sometimes it just comes down to who is best.