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Vuelta a Espana

Dan Martin and the agony of relief at Vuelta a España

Irish veteran empties the tank to carry podium hopes into decisive weekend at the Vuelta a España.

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A patch of dark pavement on the top of a mountain in Spain’s rioja wine country looked like a perfect place for a rest to Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation).

That it came at the top of the explosive Cat. 1 Alto de Moncalvillo in stage 8 at the Vuelta a España made it even more appealing. Martin emptied the tank Wednesday to defend a podium spot and collapsed at the finish line.

“I was tired, and the road looked comfortable,” Martin later joked. “Certainly more comfortable than my bike at that moment.”

The 34-year-old was so drawn out from the sharp climb that a team soigneur draped a towel over his torso as he lay on his side on the asphalt. After collecting himself, team helpers assisted the Irishman to put on warm clothes for the ride to the team bus.

Martin would be satisfied with the effort, with third on the stage to defend third place overall at the Vuelta going into two transition stages before this weekend’s big clashes at Farrapona and the Angliru.

“It was another really challenging stage,” said Martin, a winner in stage 3. “I gave it everything I had, and we are really proud of the performance.”

Martin’s finish-line repose was a testament to how punishing Wednesday’s stage was, and how far he’s going in the 2020 Vuelta.

With a stage victory and a solid GC position, Martin is halfway through his best grand tour performance of his career. He’s finished four times in the top-10 in 15 grand tours he’s started in his career, including three top-10s in a row at the Tour from 2016-2018.

Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) after a hard effort at the 2020 Vuelta a España. Photo: ISN / Noa Arnon

The Irishman is hitting new consistency and determination so far through the first half of what’s been a very mountainous and demanding Vuelta profile. The front-loaded course, which reaches a climax this weekend with the Farrapona and Angliru summits stacked up in Spain’s rugged Asturias region, is setting up Martin for a run at the final podium in his preferred terrain.

On Wednesday, the lean climber withstood an early barrage put down by Movistar leading to the approach of the final climb, perhaps the sharpest and most challenging so far in this year’s Vuelta. Movistar’s Enric Mas couldn’t follow the accelerations, opening the door for Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) to out-duel Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) for the win.

Martin followed in their wake, giving everything he had to finish third at 19 seconds back. Roglič bounced from fourth to second, with Carapaz narrowly defending the red leader’s jersey. Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Racing) attacked early, but slipped from second to fourth overall, with Martin defending his podium spot at 28 seconds back of Carapaz.

The Vuelta now tackles two tense transition stages with the threat of high winds – just the kind of terrain that’s sometimes derailed Martin in previous grand tour efforts. If he can avoid mishaps, he will roll into the Cantabrian mountains of northern Spain in pole position for a podium finish in Madrid on November 8.

“It’s another difficult stage behind us and we have a different challenge ahead over the next two days just to stay out of trouble,” Martin said. “We need to try to recover a bit before the incredibly difficult weekend.”

If his post-stage recovery on Spanish pavement was so appealing Wednesday, the hotel that night must have felt like nirvana for Martin.