Dan Martin's (Quick-Step Floors) growing confidence and stature in this year's Tour de France took another boost Wednesday when he finished second on stage 5. The Irish climber was best of the rest as Fabio Aru (Astana) soloed to the win at the summit of La Planche des Belles Filles.
After five days of tactically astute racing Martin has risen to fourth overall, 25 seconds down on new race leader and favourite, Chris Froome (Team Sky).
Other than the seconds conceded in the opening time trial, Martin hasn't put a foot out of step, gaining time at the tricky finish in Longwy and then dropping Froome and BMC's Richie Porte to finish second behind Aru on stage 5 and grab vital bonus seconds in the process. What will be most pleasing for Martin is that unlike last year, all of his attacks in this year's race have counted. Nothing has been wasted.
"It was a cat and mouse game. Fabio went and we all looked at each other. He was super strong so congratulations to him. I knew that I just had to wait for the sprint but in the end, it didn't work out," Martin said as he sat slumped against the barriers.
"It's not really down to confidence. It's more calmness," Martin said when asked about his style of riding at this year's race.
"I'm just enjoying racing and enjoying riding the Tour de France. It's a great situation to be in and the team have been on a real roll this season. We're the number one team in the world and that does breed confidence, then I have some of the best riders around me."
What will also please Martin is that when Chris Froome lifted the pace in pursuit of Aru, he along with Richie Porte and Romain Bardet were the only riders to match the Team Sky leader.
"I've no idea what happened behind. It was a deceptively hard day and with the heat ... I really felt the heat on the final climb. That's the first real heat since the race started. It felt like I was glued to the road all day. The stage suited me in the end and I did my La Flèche Wallonne technique."
That 'technique' lifted Martin away from Froome and Porte on the final ramp to the line and although the Quick-Step climber missed out on the stage win he has much to build on ahead of stage 8 and the next mountain finish.
"Today was a climb that suits me but it's still really early and a lot can happen. I'm feeling great, the team is good and I'm just so relaxed in the peloton. There's no pressure, and I've had a great season already."
"When Froome went it was really, really strong. That made the split there and one of the easier sections of the climb as well. Again, today is a strange stage. I don't think that you can read too much into it. It's an explosive finish climb, and it's really short. Once you get to the Pyrenees we'll know more."
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