Before the race Dan Martin stated that he and his Garmin-Sharp squad would stand by their result in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and despite crashing out of contention, and seeing the race cruelly slip from his hands on the final corner, he stood by those words at the finish.
If anything, Martin's post-race comments were a sign of the solidarity and teamwork he has helped to instil in a team that looked to be going through a phase of transition at the start of his season. But in this Ardennes campaign of just three races Martin has solidified his position as the team’s talisman: a rider who has united a brigade of youthful enthusiasm with the experience of the likes of Thomas Dekker and Fabian Wegmann.
The Irishman came into the race as the defending champion and had high hopes of repeating his win from 2013 after a fine second place in Flèche-Wallonne. However sport can be cruel. It can flip from euphoria and promise to despair and ‘what ifs’ in just a matter of seconds and in the space of a few wheel revolutions, in the final corner of the hardest one-day race in cycling, Martin saw his race come crashing down.
“I’m obviously devastated,” Martin told the press after he stepped off the Garmin-Sharp bus.
“It’s one thing to make a mistake or know what you’ve done but we figure that there’s a patch of oil or something. I think I had tears in my eyes before I even hit the floor. There aren’t really words for it. To race for seven hours and for that to happen on the last corner…. it’s poetry.”
Up until his crash Martin had ridden an almost perfect race. His team had helped control the main break, Alex Howes had tried to soften up the peloton with an attack and Nathan Haas stuck by Martin’s wheel for most of the day.
On the Faucons, the penultimate climb of the race, Martin did appear to struggle when a number of dangerous attacks slipped clear but the race remained in the balance and wide open, even when Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) and Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) briefly led on the final long drag to the line.
With the pair at less than eight seconds ahead Martin attacked. Pozzovivo faded first, before the Irishman made his way to Caruso’s back wheel.
Around the final corner and with the line in sight, Martin’s front wheel slipped out. The race was over for the Garmin climber with Simon Gerrans (Orica GreenEdge) building on already impressive palmarès with a well timed sprint to edge out Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quickstep).
“I don’t know what was going on behind and I don’t know how close they were but all I know is that I was feeling good and pretty relaxed. I was 250 meters from the finish and the podium was definitely on the cards. Maybe Gerrans would have caught me but there’s no way of knowing. That’s cycling.”
Martin picked himself up off the tarmac and finished the race in 39th place. He made his way to the team bus almost immediately, where he was met by his teammates.
“Everyone was gutted but that’s normal. We said that we’d stand by our result today and we stand together. They know we came so close and we’ll just have to come back next year and do the same thing again. We still had Tom Slagter in sixth place so it’s not a bad day for the team. It’s just a bit hard to take.”
Johnny Weltz, the team’s director, was visibly emotional at the finish. “We had the race in our hands but then he’s just hit the ground. We held the race in our hands and then on the last corner…”
Thomas Dekker had laid the groundwork for Martin’s race, burying himself in the opening half of the action by helping to chase down the main break. He abandoned the race but watched the finale on the team bus. He was one of the first to talk to Martin after the Irishman had made it home.
“He would have won Liege. To be in that condition, make it with the big group and control things by yourself and then crash, it’s probably the biggest disappointment of his career.”