Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) was the only rider willing to attack the GC contenders on the opening mountain stage of this year’s Tour de France. The Irishman pushed clear of his rivals near the summit of the final climb of the Col de la Colombière, and although a headwind and Team Sky’s pursuit ended his time off the front, the stage 6 winner had no regrets.
Martin’s acceleration provided a sharp contrast to what we saw for much of stage 10. Team Sky allowed a break that included race leader Greg Van Avermaet to go clear, and then shifted into their default mode of controlling affairs. Luke Rowe set the pace until the final two climbs, at which point the rest of the Team Sky collective took over. Their GC rivals patiently sat in their slipstream and although a handful of them – such as Rigoberto Uran and Ilnur Zakarin - faltered and lost time, the rest managed to remain in contention. The first day in the Alps was effectively a dead rubber in terms of the real fight for the yellow jersey.
“I just thought that I’d test the guys and I was hoping that someone would come with me but I guess Team Sky were playing a bit of mind games,” Martin told Cyclingnews after finishing seventh on the stage at 3:23 behind winner Julian Alaphilippe.
According to Martin the dominance Team Sky had in terms of numbers – they had five riders setting the pace on the final climb – was a psychological hurdle for a number of their rivals. At the Tour, defence seems to be the default tactic for a number of contenders who are willing to save their legs and race for a top-ten place rather than take a risk and look to gamble on a higher position. This was only day one of a trilogy of stages in the Alps, but Martin believed that Team Sky’s dominance acted a mind game in itself.
“They had some many riders there that riders were afraid to attack, especially with a downhill finish,” Martin said.
“I just thought that someone would come with me to the finish. It was also a case of testing guys out and seeing if anyone would get dropped. Even with some guys ten seconds off the back at the top of the climb, that could end up being a minute at the finish. I don’t know if guys were dropped but I thought that I’d open the legs anyway.”
“I think Sky have so many in numbers that riders are afraid to attack. It was a strong headwind on the climb too and that deterred attacks. I thought that I’d make it hard and see what happens.”
Martin heads into stage 11 in 17th place overall and 1:40 down on defending champion Chris Froome (Team Sky). He came into the race with ambitions of a podium spot, and while his Mur de Bretagne stage ensures that his race will be deemed a success, his overall ambitions remain unchanged. He may have lost time in a crash in the first week but a dogged ride over the cobbles of stage 9, and an aggressive ride on stage 10 suggest that the 31-year-old is far from done in this year’s race.
“Stage 11 is going to be hard but again the finish isn’t going to be that selective. These three days are a war of attrition. I’m feeling as good as can be expected after that crash. I didn’t feel great but that’s to be expected after a rest day and the crash.”