Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin) had to settle for fourth place on the Mur de Huy on stage 3 of the Tour de France earlier in the week but the Irishman will have another opportunity to land victory on amenable terrain when the race arrives at Mur de Bretagne on Saturday afternoon.
A recent tradition at Flèche Wallonne has been Martin’s late charge as the Mur de Huy begins to level out with 300 metres to go. That acceleration brought him to podium finishes at the race in 2013 and 2014, and though at first glance, his fourth place on the Tour’s visit seemed cut from the same cloth, the circumstances were very different.
“It was ridden completely differently to how it is at Flèche Wallonne because we went hard all the way up whereas Flèche is a lot more tactical,” Martin told Cyclingnews. “There wasn’t that stall on the steep section. I was on [stage winner Joaquim] Rodriguez’s wheel at the bottom but I just can’t match him on the steepest part. I’ve got more power in the final 300 metres and I was coming back but hopefully Mur de Bretagne suits me a bit better.
“But maybe I need to adapt my training a bit this winter for the steepest part of the Mur because if I can be there in the final 300 metres, I would be the fastest. Though you have to take the climb as an entirety as well: if I’d gone as fast as them on the steepest part, then maybe I wouldn’t have been as strong in the final 300 metres.”
A crash ahead of the second cobbled section on stage 4 to Cambrai cost Martin more than five minutes on the general classification and he now lies 34th overall, 8:04 off the yellow jersey of Chris Froome (Sky). At least in theory, he could enjoy greater freedom in Saturday’s finale.
“Obviously it’s been stressful but I’ve tried to stay as relaxed as possible and stay out of trouble, and I was doing a really good job apart from that one corner – the only wet corner on the cobbled stage – and my front wheel went,” Martin said. “I couldn’t do anything about it, I wasn’t even braking. I was just unlucky, it was the wrong place in the wrong time and you end up losing a hell of a lot of time.
“The aim was never to come here for GC, it was a case of ‘if it happened, it happened.’ But obviously it hasn’t happened. I always said I’d prefer to win a stage than finish 9th at the Tour.”
The slightly shallower finale on the 2km-long Mur de Bretagne, which starts off at 10.1%, then gradually eases out towards the summit, will see a wider range of contenders than the Mur de Huy. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) is favoured by many, yet on the Tour’s last visit in 2011, it was Cadel Evans who won out ahead of Alberto Contador. Martin was not part of Garmin’s Tour selection on that occasion, but he has an idea of what lies ahead and the stage is one he has had earmarked since the start of the race.
“I think it’s going to be a case of being at the front at the bottom. I think there’s a right turn at the bottom,” he said on Friday morning. “I’ll get through today and watch it on YouTube tonight but I’ve never ridden it so it’s hard to say right now what it will be like. On paper it looks like a good climb for me and the way the legs are feeling, I should be ok I think. My leg was a little sore after the crash but it feels a bit better now. So we’ll give it a crack.”