After a few minutes of looking like he was cooked, Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) was quickly back in the GC conversation at this year’s Tour de France with his second Alpine attack in two days.
He may be over three minutes behind race leader Geraint Thomas, but Martin’s not afraid to take the fight to Team Sky.
With six kilometers left to race in stage 11 of the Tour de France, the 31-year-old Irishman looked to be in trouble, lagging behind a group of GC rivals that included Chris Froome (Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar). With four kilometers to go, Martin clawed his way back to the favorites and immediately shot off the front, bringing Froome with him.
“I just had a bad moment at the wrong time. But I had it under control and I knew where the top was. I kind of had a feeling the group would stop as soon as it got to the flat section,” Martin said. “With that little bit of gap from behind at first, I thought why not have a try?”
The Martin-Froome pairing collaborated well in pursuit of Thomas (Sky) and Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) up the road. Their combined efforts put significant time into those behind, as the chasers opted to zig-zag across the road marking each other, rather than working together to close down the dangerous move.
Inside the final two kilometers, Froome dropped Martin and bridged to Dumoulin. Thomas surged ahead to take the stage victory with Dumoulin and Froome crossing the line behind.
Martin rolled in sixth on the day, 27 seconds down on Thomas and just seven behind Froome. That put him 32 seconds ahead of a group containing GC rivals Quintana, Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), with other overall hopefuls even farther back. He may have shipped some time to the Sky duo and 2016 Giro d’Italia champion, but his late-stage aggression propelled him into the top 10 in the overall standings.
“I was very happy that Chris came with me and decided to ride. Maybe he does kind of owe me one — over the years I’ve definitely helped him a bit inadvertently,” Martin joked. “He was definitely hurting me the last 3k but I knew the more I was hurting, the more time I’d be getting on the guys behind.”
After Tuesday’s stage, Martin suggested that Team Sky’s firepower was scaring the rest of the GC hopefuls off from putting in attacks. On Wednesday, however, he declined to express frustration with either Sky’s collective strength or the rest of the GC hopefuls’ tactics.
“The speed is so high that everyone is on the limit. Even Chris [Froome] and Geraint [Thomas] are on the limit, you can see that,” he said. “It’s an incredibly hard day, especially the heat.”
Even on a day that saw Thomas take yellow and Froome snatch time on nearly every other rival, Martin saw reasons to be optimistic about the possibility of overhauling the Sky train in the stages to come.
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“Everybody had a go today. It was a really open race. Movistar really tried to break it up and then Tom obviously had a go as well,” he said. “[Sky] aren’t unbeatable. They’re obviously incredibly strong at the moment. Everybody has a bad day sometimes.”
Martin’s strong ride will have him confident in his own chances in the mountain stages on the horizon at the Tour. He has proved on multiple occasions already in this Tour — most notably by winning stage 6 to Mûr-de-Bretagne — that he is on terrific form. His back-to-back high-mountain raids are confirmation that he has recovered quickly from what looked like a nasty fall in stage 8, and they have propelled him to 10th place overall in the general classification. With more climber-friendly days looming, Martin is trending way up.
Nonetheless, he downplayed his overall chances after Wednesday’s stage, returning to the familiar “day-by-day” mantra he has always had when racing for the general classification in a grand tour.
“After the crash, I’m not really thinking about time or GC,” he said. “I’m just doing my best every day and we’ll see the results at the end.”
Andrew Hood contributed to this report from La Rosière, France.