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Garmin-Sharp puts its Vuelta eggs in Daniel Martin’s basket

With Andrew Talansky and Ryder Hesjedal out of the running, Daniel Martin is Garmin-Sharp's best hope

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BAEZA, Spain (VN) — Garmin-Sharp is now putting all of its GC eggs in one basket in the form of Daniel Martin. The Irishman is the team’s sole survivor going into the second week of the Vuelta a España.

Andrew Talansky started the Vuelta admittedly not in fighting form in his comeback from his emotional Tour de France exit, while Ryder Hesjedal, who had hoped for a strong GC performance, lost his options in a pair of tough days in the first week.

That leaves the 28-year-old Martin to carry the team’s GC weight into the Vuelta’s second half. Speaking to VeloNews before the start of Saturday’s stage, Martin said he’s ready.

“The main thing is to try to keep the options for the GC. It would have been nice to have more cards to play, but that’s not the case. Now it’s me,” Martin said. “This position is a bit new to me, and I haven’t really led at a grand tour before. I am looking forward to it, and we’ll see how it goes in the mountains.”

Martin has had a solid opening week, punching to second in stage 3, and riding close to the top favorites to keep his GC options intact. Martin ended Saturday’s chaotic sprint stage 15th overall at 1:34 back.

Martin admitted he buckled on the short but steep climb up La Zubia in stage 5. Garmin-Sharp was driving the pace, but Martin suddenly was pedaling squares when the main players pushed forward. The searing heat in the first week of the Vuelta certainly wasn’t helping.

“It’s been a pretty good start, but we lost a bit of time when they tried to split up the bunch. It wasn’t really in the crosswinds, but in the downhill,” he said.

“Ryder losing his GC shot was a bit of a blow, but personally, it’s been a good start. I felt good on the uphill finish [La Zubia], but suddenly I just didn’t have the legs. I think it was the heat. The body stopped working with 2km to go. I was looking really good, then suddenly I wasn’t. It wasn’t like it was a slow decline. Hopefully the cooler temperatures will treat me well. I’ve felt good otherwise.”

This Vuelta is Martin’s seventh grand-tour start. A confirmed stage-hunter and one-day racer — he won the 2013 Liège-Bastogne-Liège but crashed on the final corner this year when he had another win in his sights — Martin admits he’s not sure if he’s cut out to be a contender in the three-week tours.

He struggles on longer, power-based time trial courses, and so far, his best grand tour was 13th overall in the 2011 Vuelta.

Martin crashed out in the opening team time trial at the 2014 Giro d’Italia, so this Vuelta could be a turning point in his career. If he does well, he could continue to work to develop his GC credentials. If not, he might look at focusing on winning stages, and on the prestigious one-day races, such as Liège or Giro di Lombardia, that fit him like a glove.

“I am still discovering myself as a rider,” Martin said. “Sometimes I don’t even think I like this stage-racing business. So far, it seems people are content with not losing the race, rather than winning the race.

“You saw the other day when we took control of the race, to try to win. We seemed like the only team who wanted to try to win the stage, and the other teams seemed more worried about saving energy for the next days. It’s not the style of racing I enjoy so much. I prefer the one-day races. Maybe I will change during this Vuelta. I am definitely maturing mentally as well.”

The next 72 hours could well decide much of Martin’s immediate future during this Vuelta. Sunday’s mountaintop finale is perfect for Martin’s punchy, attacking style. He can stay with the top contenders, and boasts a strong finishing kick to win stages like the Valdelinares summit finale.

And then there is the long, individual time trial at Borja on Tuesday, hardly Martin’s favored ground. If he loses too much time, he could revert into his role as a stage-hunter. Yet if he can manage to stay close, he will keep fighting into the final week.

“The Vuelta is long, and the hardest climbs are still to come,” Martin said. “I will try every day, like we’ve been doing so far. Whether that’s a stage win or a strong placing in GC, we’ll see.”