It's been one week since Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) prevailed in the queen stage at the Volta a Catalunya, taking both the stage victory and leader's jersey atop the Port Ainé-Rialp summit finish after spending most of the day on the attack, and four days since he wrapped up the general classification victory this past Sunday, and the magnitude of his biggest career win is still very much palpable for the 26-year-old Irishman.
"It's kind of sunk in a bit now, but it's funny in cycling how you have to move on really quick," Martin told Cyclingnews from his home in Girona, Spain. "It's still pretty incredible. I've got the trophy sitting here and I've been stunned by the reaction both in Ireland and Girona as well. I can barely walk down the street without being recognised now."
Martin's stage victory on last Thursday's queen stage was his first win since taking a stage in the 2011 Vuelta a Espana, and on Sunday he earned his first stage race victory since the 2010 Tour of Poland. His palmares have plenty of near misses, however, and Martin was proud to return to the top step of the podium once again.
"It's a great feeling to in some ways realise my potential, finally," said Martin. "I've won Poland before but I've had so many seconds, thirds and fourths in WorldTour races, that to finally get a win under my belt is quite a landmark. Hopefully we can keep going from here and I look forward to a more confident and successful season."
"Racing on instinct"
While victory at the Volta a Catalunya was particularly sweet for Martin as the WorldTour stage race is effectively a home race for the Girona resident, his pivotal performance in the seven-day race's fourth stage, where he infiltrated the early break in the 218km route from Llanars-Vall de Camprodon to Port Ainé-Rialp, stemmed simply from his desire to be near the front for the descent off the first of five categorised climbs.
"I was very much racing on instinct. I didn't wake up that morning planning on going in the breakaway. It just felt right at the time. It was such a hard start and we were a little bit short-handed at the front. We were just coming to the top of the first climb of the day and I wanted to be in front for the downhill anyway so I thought 'I'll just follow the attack and if it doesn't work it doesn't work'."
But it did work. Martin suddenly found himself amidst a 23-rider strong jail break with plenty of horsepower on board to go the distance, particularly his reigning Giro d'Italia champion teammate Ryder Hesjedal.
"Ryder saw me there and you couldn't have a better teammate in the front. He drove the breakaway on all day. He really believed in me for the stage win and in taking the general. Once we got the gap things were looking good, especially with me knowing the roads."
The queen stage finished with an 18.9km climb of Port Ainé-Rialp, and Martin put his knowledge of the ascent to good use. The 23-rider break had splintered on the penultimate climb, and Martin arrived at the base of the final ascent with six other riders, including cousin Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff).
"We visited the same final climb as we did last year so we actually did reconnaissance last year to look at the climb, so I knew it from then. I didn't have time to recon it again this year, but that definitely influenced how I rode on the climb because I knew it was steeper at the bottom with a long, flatter section in the middle.
"I kicked early at the bottom of the climb and just rode my tempo and fortunately I was able to hold my own on the climb - I don't really know where that came from but I just got into a rhythm and that was good enough to get me to the top in front and enough time in hand for the GC.
"Those last two kilometres were interminable. I actually watched it for the first time yesterday and between 2km and 1km to go, they said we averaged five percent but it was really more like 10 to 12 percent for that kilometre - it was probably the longest kilometre of my life, but we made it."
With three stages remaining, Martin now held a tenuous 10-second lead over Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) on general classification and Garmin-Sharp set to work to keep Martin in the leader's jersey. With no time trials on offer in the seven-day WorldTour event to provide separation, time bonuses and clever riding would prove pivotal. During stage 5 Martin picked up a one-second bonus at an intermediate sprint and then placed himself at the front in the finale, ending up on the right end of a split in the peloton which Rodriguez missed. Martin picked up four seconds in total, and then won an intermediate sprint the following day to add another three-second cushion on Rodriguez. On a taxing finishing circuit in Barcelona on Sunday, Martin and his teammates kept their GC rivals in check and maintained the Irishman's 17-second advantage over the Katusha captain to seal overall victory.
"Those last three stages were very, very long days for me," said Martin. "I went really, really deep to win the stage on Thursday and it was quite a battle to recover each day to defend. I've always had a little bit of a sprint and each year at Catalunya the placings often come down to position in the sprints. It's something that I've got used to at this race. It also helps having great staff and riders who really went into detail about how the final [on Friday] was so we knew exactly when I had to be at the front.
"The last Saturday and Sunday I think the team really showed its depth. We were unfortunate to lose Christian [Vande Velde] early on in the week so we were already down to seven riders, but the team held strong and really stuck together. It's a victory that makes me feel very proud and proud to be part of this team because I know I couldn't have done it without them."
Ardennes Classics next target
Martin had the best results of his career last year in Belgium's one-day Classics Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, in which he finished sixth and fifth respectively. This year Martin feels he's in even better condition heading into the Ardennes week, but the first order of business is recovery.
"I had a really big racing block between Tirreno and Catalunya and I'm really paying for that at the moment. I really had to dig deep those last few days in Catalunya and I definitely felt it this week. I've taken it very, very easy to recover properly and then I'll hopefully get some really good, specific training for the Ardennes.
"Those races are close to my heart, not only because I performed well there last year, but also I just really enjoy them. There's a fantastic atmosphere, the courses suit me and I enjoy the style of racing.
"They were my objective from the start of the year, to do well in the Ardennes week, and I think I'm in a lot better condition this year than I was at the same time last year as far as being prepared for them."
Martin will take a well-earned break following Liège-Bastogne-Liège and after making his Tour de France debut in 2012 he hopes to once again be on the start line this year.
"I trained really hard this winter and it's paid off. I think it would be a bit too much to head for the Giro, just psychologically more than anything. I've been so on it, since early December I've been training really hard, and it will be nice to have a bit of a break after the Ardennes. Then we'll build up and see what happens as far as July."