Dan Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) gave a further demonstration of his class with a fine second place finish at the Tour of Lombardy on Saturday, lifting himself into the top ten of the final WorldTour rankings in the process.
The Irishman was well-positioned as the road steepened near the top of the final climb to Villa Vergano, but was unable to match the initial intensity of winner Oliver Zaugg’s (Leopard Trek) victory. Although he was the strongest of the chasers over the top of the climb, Martin eventually had to settle for winning the sprint for second place, 8 seconds down on the Swiss rider.
“I knew if we caught him I’d be one of the fastest sprinters there, but I just didn’t have the legs to go with him on the climb, it’s as simple as that. He was so strong on that climb,” Martin admitted to Cyclingnews after descending from the podium. “Everybody was fully committed to try and get him back, all five of us were working hard, but once you get to the last kilometre and start to look at each other, it’s over.”
In a year of classics upsets, Zaugg’s Lombardy win – his first as a professional – was perhaps the biggest surprise of all, but his fellow professionals had noted his burgeoning form at the tail end of the season.
“He’s been really strong the last few weeks I knew he was going well,” Martin pointed out. “He took his chance early on the climb and nobody could react. That’s the way it goes.”
Martin set off in pursuit closer to the summit of the climb, bringing Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) with him. Though they were joined by reinforcements for the 8km drop into Lecco, they were unable to peg back Zaugg. “It was a good group to work with, but Zaugg’s gap at the top was too big and that’s the end of it,” he said.
Recovering from the Vuelta
Though Martin shone in the finale, a combination of circumstance and post-Vuelta a España fatigue had threatened to remove him from contention in the early salvoes of the race. After conquering La Covatilla and finishing 13th overall in Spain, Martin took time to recover from a searingly tough edition of the race.
“I’ve been really tired the last few weeks. I’ve been sleeping so much and waking up tired still, so I wasn’t too optimistic about that today to be honest,” he said. “I was falling asleep on the bike for the first couple of hours, I was feeling so tired, but once I got into the race I got myself going.”
As the peloton fractured on the descent of the Colma di Sormano, however, it looked as though Martin missed the chance to fight for the win. But when Vincenzo Nibali’s (Liquigas-Cannondale) lone flight on the Madonna del Ghisallo saw the remnants of the leading group sit up, he was able to get back into the equation.
“It’s funny how things work out, because I was actually the last one not to be in that group from the peloton, because the two guys just in front of me left the wheels go,” Martin explained. “I tried to get across but in the end, I think it worked out better because I saved energy.”
Martin’s second-place finish was the best display by an Irishman in a major classic since Sean Kelly’s final monument victory at Milan-San Remo in 1992. Although he missed out on bridging that near two-decade gap, Martin had the consolation of moving up to 9th in the final WorldTour standings.
“I’m touching the top ten in the world now as well, and I think it shows that every year, I’m getting stronger. Now I’ve just got to sort out my allergies in the springtime and hopefully I’ll be able to show this level of performance all year round.”
In spite of a blistering run of form in the lead-up to the Tour de France, Martin missed out on a place in Garmin-Cervélo’s team for La Grande Boucle. While he should surely be in line to make his debut in the race next year, Martin’s primary objective is to continue his progress through the upper echelons of the sport. “I’ve had a fantastic end to this year, and it looks like we’re going to have some fun next season."