Dan Martin: “I’m adapting to this role”
He’s had GC responsibilities before but now Dan Martin is a team leader. He admits that it took a little while to adapt to that role but he believes the mood at UAE Team Emirates has helped contribute to his winning ways.
The transformation of UAE Team Emirates continues. Last year it was a new name. This year it’s a new roster with the arrival of a number of riders capable of achieving results that seemed just out of reach in the past. Dan Martin was a star recruit and he comes to the Tour de France of 2018 as a former stage winner – albeit five years ago – who now has GC aspirations.
The opening week has been one for the sprinters but on the Mûr de Bretagne, the climbers got a gauge of one another. Who is going well? Who experienced misfortune? Who is damaged by the crashes in the first five stages? Who is capable of gaining time on an incline?
We know a few answers now but the Mûr is a hill, not a mountain. In two kilometres of climbing, one thing is clear: the Irishman who finished sixth in last year’s Tour (racing in the Quickstep colours) is indeed going well. Had it not been for that team time trial of stage three – and the 1:38 his team surrendered to BMC Racing that day – he’d be leading the Tour. He hasn’t had too much misfortune. He isn’t injured. He is capable of distancing everyone in the race when the road gets steep.
Meanwhile, in his wake, there were a number of sub-stories to consider, many of which influence who sits in the top order of the Tour’s general classification after 999.5km of racing in 2018.
Eighth for Peter Sagan in stage six.
Photo: Jean-Pierre Ronco
Tom Dumuolin, for example: he slipped from seventh overall to 15th. A mechanical problem is the reason. With around 6km to go, he needed a new front wheel. Team-mates hovered and tried to service him but he eventually got change from the team car. And then it was time to chase. He finished 46 and lost 53 seconds to Martin.
To add insult to misfortune, he was penalised 20 seconds for drafting the car… a little too long.
Romain Bardet is another example of back luck. Moments before Dumoulin’s incident, the Frenchman found himself fumbling away on a team-mate’s bike. The Frenchman’s personal bike was damaged and it took no time at all for Tony Gallopin to unclip and hand over his bike to his team leader. Bardet’s penalty for riding a bike that was clearly too big for him? No chance of going for the stage win, and a loss of 31 seconds.
Ahead the Irishman couldn’t be reeled in. He attacked 1.1km from the finish and rode alone all the way to the line.
“When I went, the legs felt great,” said Dan Martin shortly after the finish. He almost seemed surprised and exactly how good he feld. “I thought if I could get a gap, I’d be okay – and it turns out I could.”
Martin would finish one second ahead of a frustrated Pierre Latour who – with Bardet out the back and others tending to the leader of AG2R La Mondiale – got a chance to race for himself. Second place and a display or irritation, opportunity missed.
The next 14 riders were just three seconds shy of Martin but then the gaps opened: six seconds to Tejay van Garderen – down from second overall to third for the American; and then eight seconds to Chris Froome… he moves up from 15th to 14th because of Dumoulin’s mishap but, interestingly, the defending champion’s team-mate Geraint Thomas is now second on GC.
Geraint captured another two second gain at the bonus point near the end of the stage, finished ninth on the Mûr, and is now just three seconds behind Van Avermaet.
BMC Racing: 11th and 12th for Richie Porte and Greg Van Avermaet (above), respectively.
Photo: Jean-Pierre Ronco
Splitting things up at the halfway mark
The Quickstep team seemed intent on doing what it could to animate the race. At the halfway mark they seized a moment in the wind to split the peloton and spit a few high-profile riders out the back and into the second group.
Why? There was a prospect of either Philippe Gilbert or Julian Alaphilippe taking some time bonuses and move up into the yellow jersey.
It didn’t work out that way. The split happened with around 100km to go and it was simply too long to maintain the pace. Beside, as Martin later explained, “there were a lot of contenders in that group and I wasn’t too concerned”.
Dan Martin earned his second Tour stage win, five years after his first.
Photo: Jean-Pierre Ronco
Martin: still adjusting to leadership role
As expected, the Mûr proved to provide the deciding ramp, the incline required to lure the GC riders to the fore and show themselves on a climb for the first time this July.
There’s a long day tomorrow, the longest stage of the 105th Tour, then another sprint expected in stage eight… and then the rendezvous with the cobbles in stage nine.
GVA keeps his lead. UAE gets its win.
“Obviously the biggest difference is that I took on the role of a real team leader,” he said when asked to compare UAE with his former team. “With Quickstep I was always ‘The GC Rider’ but never took on the pressure of the whole team. That’s what makes this victory a bit more special, because I take on this role with added pressure and maybe that’s why I was not so good at the start of the season – as I’m adapted to this role.”
He would later explain that he missed “a very important moment at home”. His wife went for her 28-week scan for the twins the couple are expecting. “I missed that and it’s pretty special,” he said before adding, “but this win is also pretty special.”
He’s adapting to his leadership role and he’s happy with the outcome – and even more pleased now that he’s given the team its first stage victory in the Tour de France.
“The last few months, and especially at this race, we have a very special atmosphere with the team. We’re laughing and joking before the start, with very little pressure on ourselves and we’re racing well. Perhaps that’s my influence, that’s my attitude change and it’s reflecting on the whole team. I think you’ll see a big turnaround at UAE Team Emirates and long may that continue.”
– By Rob Arnold