By Daniel Benson and Susan Westemeyer
Irish youngster Dan Martin of Team Garmin-Slipstream opened his season in promising fashion, finishing on the final podium and taking the the best young rider's jersey in the Tour Méditerranéen. An escape in the fourth stage and a good day on the final day's mountaintop finish atop Mont Faron left him in third overall.
It was familiar territory for the 22-year-old. "I used to train on the same roads when I was based in France so I knew what to expect during stage four. Riders were popping up the road so I decided to follow the wheels knowing that there was a good chance a group could get clear. One minute I looked back and we had a gap," said Martin.
In that fourth stage from Greasque to Bouc Bel Air, the Irishman was in the break with teammate Danny Pate, and finished the day in eighth place, 41 seconds behind stage winner Robbie Hunter. That moved him up to fourth overall.
"I'm surprised by my performance so far this season as I don't have great form. I tend to go well with lots of miles in my legs and in the heat and so far I've had neither," Martin told Cyclingnews from his base in Girona.
Martin was only 50 seconds down on leader Luis León Sánchez going into the decisive final stage to Mont Faron. His Garmin team saw a chance for him to take the overall win, and worked hard to break up the peloton on the final climb.
"Danny Pate even managed to get a gap on the leaders and he led by a few seconds." Sánchez was caught without teammates, and had to chase on his own, which split up the leading group.
Pate was eventually caught and passed, and Martin finished thirteenth on the stage, but he didn't see it as unlucky and was in fact pleased with his early season. "I've never felt this strong at this point in the season but I'm too early into my career to start setting objectives. I'm just learning at the moment and taking things steady."
In the next few weeks, Martin will take on two of the Spring Classics, Flèche Wallone and Liège-Bastogne-Liège for the first time.