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Dan Martin on the podium
Irishman beaten into second place by Valverde
After abandoning Amstel Gold Race on Sunday, Dan Martin’s ride in Flèche Wallonne became integral to his chances of success in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Another flare-up to that right knee and his Ardennes campaign would have been in the balance but the rider, who has been in a relaxed state of mind all week, claimed a creditable second place on Wednesday with only Alejandro Valverde able to out-sprint him up the Mur de Huy.
It’s incredible how quickly a season can turn around. Ahead of the race, Martin had no results to speak of but in the build-up to the Ardennes he calmly pointed to the solid training base he had accumulated in the lead-up to his first objectives of the campaign. And then on the 1.3 kilometre the slopes of the Mur de Huy, he looked comfortable and calm, dancing away from all but Valverde.
“They say that you have to learn how to race up that climb and every year I seem to get a little bit better,” Martin said in his post race press conference when a journalist pointed out that he had finished sixth, fourth and now second in this race over the past three seasons.
“Every year I seem to get better and better but this year was a different race. It was really fast from the bottom of the climb. Usually there’s a little bit of looking at each other but it was just flat out the whole way up. Alejandro was the strongest today. With a hundred meters to go I did think that I might have it but he blew passed and left me for dead.”
The knee injury that looked to threaten his spring has seemingly disappeared. After crossing the line and steadying himself, Martin chose to refrain from talking to the press and instead wait for each of his Garmin-Sharp teammates to cross the line. In his press conference he paid tribute to the team’s chiropractor and medical staff.
“Even on Monday my knee was fine. It was 100 per cent for me today and we had an incredibly strong team and it was such a fast race but we had Ramunas [Navardauskas] in the break from the start and as far as the team went it was perfect. They kept me in position and relaxed and that really helped because it’s really important to save energy in this race.
“I knew that I’d been training well but obviously training is different to racing. This is my first result of the year and it’s my first objective of the year so it’s nice to come away with the podium in the first race I’ve been aiming for, ahead of Sunday and of course the Giro. That’s my really big goal for the first part of the year, the whole season really, so it’s nice to have that confidence boost and know that what I’ve been doing in training has been going well.”
Attention now turns to Liège-Bastogne-Liège, arguably the toughest one-day race in the calendar and the final battle ground of the Ardennes. It’s the last chance for riders who have fluffed their lines in Amstel and Flèche to find redemption but there’s no easy path with a raft of pure climbers and grand tour contenders joining the fray.
Martin is, of course, the defending champion but if there’s any pressure, he’s not showing it.
“Liège is more a war of attrition and you don’t see the same sort of explosiveness in the final. This race is very much a waiting game but Liège is more tactical and team tactics play more of a part. I think Liège is a different race because some guys just can’t race into that sixth hour whereas this race I think it was around 4:40. It’s a different animal but I think that if you go well here, then you have the form for Sunday.”