Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a España: Dan Martin survives rainy challenges and turns focus to GC battle

Dan Martin has mixed feelings about racing during pandemic conditions despite being poised third overall at the Vuelta a España.

Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) used the Tour de France as a three-week training camp for the Vuelta a España. It’s not like he wasn’t trying during the Tour, but a back injury before the Tour even started forced him to go into stage-hunter mode in France.

The Irishman on the Israeli team has already checked off one box at the Vuelta, with a stage victory in stage 3. After enduring a Dantesque day of rain and cold Sunday, Martin now shifts fully into GC mode for the season’s final grand tour.

“The objective at the Tour was to win a stage, and prepare for this race,” Martin said. “The Vuelta was at the center of my year ever since they reset the calendar. Things are going well, and now we’ll see how far we can go on GC. It’s been a very hard start, but so far, it’s going well.”

Martin has had a near-flawless start to the 2020 Vuelta, with third in the opening two stages before hitting the jackpot in stage 3. On Sunday, he avoided the disasters that struck Jumbo-Visma, with Primož Roglič ceding the leader’s jersey and Sepp Kuss giving up 10 minutes. Roglič struggled to put on a rain cape, lost contact with the bunch, and burned a lot of matches to regain contact. Kuss lost 10 minutes, and Roglič struggled on the final ramps and slipped to fourth.

“I was right on Roglič’s wheel near the top because I expected him to attack on the descent,” he said. “I was alert at the top of that climb. I saw Ineos go to the front, and then I saw Roglič take a jacket. I have no idea what happened behind me. I did not look back once from the top of that climb all the way to the finish line. I focused on my race because that’s the kind of error that can cost you a lot of time.

“All the teams here are looking to attack when you show signs of weakness,” he said. “Primož showed that Sunday, and it cost him the jersey.”

The 34-year-old enters the second week of the Vuelta poised in third overall at 20 seconds behind new leader Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers).

“I was quite nervous about Sunday’s stage,” Martin continued. “Historically, I have not been great in those kinds of conditions. One little mistake, and you can lose a lot of time. I felt really good until the last 3km. It got a lot colder as we went up, and my body just froze. I’m happy, and we’re still in good position, so it has to be considered a success.”

Martin expressed his enthusiasm about racing the Vuelta so late in the season but said he has mixed feelings about racing during a worsening coronavirus pandemic that is sending Spain back into nighttime curfews and some regional travel restrictions. Officials said Sunday the race is expected to continue, while riders inside the peloton underwent COVID-19 controls Monday.

“I’m sitting on the fence as far as that question goes,” Martin said when asked if he was comfortable racing during the pandemic. “The race organization here is doing a superb job, and it’s the safest I’ve felt racing all year. But when you see cycling continuing as normal, when so many people are struggling, is it correct that we continue while so many others make sacrifices? I also understand it’s bringing a lot of enjoyment to people’s lives, and it’s brings some joy to the world. It’s a tricky question. I am just going to enjoy the race as long as it lasts.”

Going into the Vuelta’s second week, Martin said it’s going to be a yo-yo battle between the climbers like himself, Carapaz and Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling), second overall at 18 seconds back, to try to further distance Roglič, who will be poised to claw back a lot of time in the individual time trial stage on November 3 in stage 13.

“Those two stages — Farrapona and the famous Angliru — that’s where the race will be won or lost,” Martin said. “That’s where the climbers really need to take time on Roglič. I think we need another minute or two minutes to be safe for the time trial. You can lose the race at any moment. Tomorrow is another big day. There can be big time gaps there.”