Dan Martin shakes off surprise ending to remain in GC picture at Vuelta a Espana

Irishman lies 3rd overall after first mountaintop finish

The finale of stage 7 of the Vuelta a España didn’t do exactly what it said on the tin. According the road book, there was to be a slope of 14 percent as the race entered the final two kilometres of the seemingly interminable haul up the Alto de Capileira.

With that in mind, Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin) wound up for an attack with a little over 1,500 metres remaining, but on zipping off the front of the red jersey group, he was surprised to find that the promised terrain was not beneath his wheels.

Martin’s acceleration was reined back in shortly afterwards, but he had enough in reserve to hang tough when the red jersey group fragmented in the final 800 metres, and he crossed the line safely alongside the bulk of the overall contenders in 11th place.

“The finish was supposed to be ramps of 10, 11 13 percent and instead it’s 5 or 6 percent,” Martin told Cyclingnews afterwards. “It was the same yesterday and the day before. Obviously we get information from the finish line when the soigneurs see it but it’s not the same. It’s kind of strange and it maybe changed the race a little bit today because everyone was waiting for that steep part and the climb to the line.”

Martin admitted that he almost paid a price for his acceleration as the group of favourites responded to Fabio Aru’s follow-up move, but the Irishman was able to make light of the incident as he zipped up a jacket before descending to the team bus further down the climb. “It was so hot today, but I’m feeling good although I almost got dropped just after I attacked,” he said. “That’s a bit of a faux-pas, isn’t it?”

While Martin held firm in the finale, Chris Froome (Team Sky) betrayed surprising signs of weakness, conceding almost half a minute to the rest of the overall favourites after slipping back when the race began to break up in those deceptive final two kilometres. Martin, however, was unwilling to read too much into the Tour de France winner’s travails at this point.

“It was really fast and there was the build-up of the heat all week, it’s been very hot,” Martin said. “It was a strange kind of a climb too, the pace was going up and down out of corners and there were accelerations and that’s not Chris’s race. He’s good at steady power but I’m sure he’ll be stronger.”

As Martin was racing towards La Alpujarra on Friday afternoon, confirmation of his transfer to Etixx-QuickStep for the 2016 season dropped into email inboxes in the Vuelta press room. In his final Grand Tour in the colours of Cannondale-Garmin, and at the end of a campaign where he has endured more than his share of ill fortune, Martin has appeared determined to make the most of the occasion, with attacks on three of the Vuelta’s uphill finishes to date.

“I’m enjoying my racing,” he said. “We came here with a young team. My legs are surprisingly good and I’m just enjoying it.”

After the first major rendezvous of this Vuelta, Martin finds himself in third place overall, 33 seconds off the red jersey of Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge). With the Tour de France already in his legs, Martin has been reluctant to make any particular declarations about his likely finish in Madrid, but a high overall finish – he was 7th a year ago – remains on his radar.

“I’ve never been this high on GC in a Grand Tour at any point, so it’s exciting. But as I said the other day, I’ll take it day by day,” Martin said. “Every day I can stay up there on GC it’s a bonus.”

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