Dan Martin: I didn’t run out of legs, Matthews was just quicker

Irishman takes second at Arcos de la Frontera

Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) could summon up a smile even if his frustration was palpable as he banged on his handlebars on crossing the line. “I’m just sick of getting second place,” the Irishman said after wheeling to a halt past the finish of stage 3 of the Vuelta a España, just edged out by Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge).

Too difficult for the pure sprinters but seemingly not quite hard enough for the real climbers, the uphill finish at Arcos de la Frontera was a difficult one to categorise, but Martin liked what he saw when he reconnoitred the finale on the eve of the Vuelta.

“I saw the finish on Friday and I immediately had a good feeling but Bling [Matthews] was just too fast in the end,” Martin said. “I didn’t run out of legs, he was just quicker.”

Even if it was not nearly as steep, Sky manager Dave Brailsford compared the finale to that of Flèche Wallonne: like the Mur de Huy, judgment was nine-tenths of the law on the final haul to the line. Martin, who took fourth and second in the past two editions of Flèche, looked to have gauged his effort perfectly here.

He didn’t panic when Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) punched his way clear before the gradient began to bite in earnest, but then dived for Chris Froome’s wheel when he accelerated 500 metres from the top. Just 300 metres from home, Martin ripped clear, but – cruelly – Matthews managed to swoop past him at the death.

“I went at 500 metres to go but Chris Froome accelerated at the same moment so I got on his wheel,” Martin said. “Then with 300 metres to go, I attacked. I didn’t know that Matthews was on my wheel but at that point I was committed so I just had to go to the line. If it was anyone other than Matthews on my wheel I would have won, but he is really very fast.

“It’s a finish that was good for me as puncheur. I can be happy with how I rode but to finish second again is a bit disappointing. Still, I’ve shown that I’m riding well and I’m content for what’s to come.”

Martin lines up alongside Ryder Hesjedal at this Vuelta as one of Garmin-Sharp’s two general classification leaders, with Andrew Talansky in the role of a very deluxe domestique. His best general classification performance in a Grand Tour remains his 13th place in the 2011 Vuelta, and Martin was reluctant to put a number on his ambitions for this year’s race.

“I’ve done the best I can to be in shape and I’m going to do the best I possibly can but it depends on how good the other guys are,” Martin said. “If the other guys are better than me, they’ll beat me, it’s as simple as that. I don’t think you can make goals until you know how good the other guys are.”

Thursday’s summit finish at La Zubia should provide a firmer indication of the general classification contenders’ condition, but although he trained at nearby Sierra Nevada in the spring, Martin is not familiar with the 4.6km climb of Alto Cumbres Verdes.

Martin is, however, somewhat surer of his own condition. His has been a truncated season due to the crash on the Giro d’Italia’s opening day, but after an impressive third place at the recent Tour de l’Ain, he enters the Vuelta with considerable assurance.

“I’m better, much better [than before the Giro],” Martin said. “I don’t think I’ve ever gone into a Grand Tour with these sensations. I seemed to be getting better the whole of the last week.”

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