By his own admission, Dan Martin has endured a difficult start to his time at UAE Team Emirates, but there was a glimpse of the Irishman's old self as he sprang clear of the field on the final climb to Lans-en-Vercors on stage 4 of the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Martin has never been shy to attack and, after Team Sky had controlled the first mountain stage over the hors categorie Col du Mont Noir and most of the way up the five-kilometre category 2 summit finish, he sensed the moment was right as the gradients hit eight per cent in the final kilometre.
Martin's effort put paid to the hopes of the last breakaway survivor, Dario Cataldo, and created a selection of four riders. Along with fellow yellow jersey hopefuls Geraint Thomas and Romain Bardet, there was also, frustratingly for Martin, Julian Alaphilippe, who possesses a kick like few others on this sort of terrain and duly skipped clear to take the stage.
"When I went, I kind of saw Julian was a little bit boxed in, but at the finish… I don't have that sprint yet, but it's coming. I'm happy. I felt good all day, the guys did a great job. We're getting there," Martin said at the finish.
"I could hear Cataldo was coming back but then I was just trying to wait. I was ready to go but on that gradient, we were going so quick that it was pointless to attack before I did. I kind of felt a bit of easing and thought 'yeah I can go to the line from there'. Otherwise, it just starts to get messy. If I wait until the last 200 metres, Julian beats me. Maybe I should go a little further out next time. Congratulations to Julian, though. We were teammates for two years, and we're good friends. I wish I'd won though…"
After posting top 10 finishes in the past two editions of the Tour de France, Martin left Quick-Step Floors for a true shot at the yellow jersey, with more of a dedicated team behind him. However, he has yet to win in the colours of UAE Team Emirates, posting results in stage races and the Ardennes Classics that fell short of his potential.
So, despite narrowly missing out on stage honours, and despite being nearly three minutes down on general classification after the prologue and team time trial, Martin took a lot of heart from Thursday's ride.
"It's just learning, it's adapting to the new environment. I've had good legs in training all year, but it just hasn't quite come together in races for various little reasons – some my own, some misfortune, and some that learning process," he said.
"It's good to get a result down on paper because in training I've been really good. So that part's a relief and it's a good sign for the next few days."
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