Despite describing it as "one of the hardest days I've ever had on the bike", Dan Martin clearly relished the final stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné – and not just because it saw him leap from eighth to third overall.
The Quick-Step rider attacked on the final climb to Plateau de Solaison, the last of four major climbs crammed into the 115 kilometres, to finish second on a dramatic day that saw Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) rob Richie Porte (BMC) of the yellow jersey and overall victory.
"Wow, what a stage," said Martin, speaking to Cyclingnews under the baking sun at the Plateau de Solaison.
"It was just an epic day. On every climb I think an attack went in and we were down to seven or eight riders. I wish it was on television all day – that's what bike racing is all about. It was such an aggressive day's racing. If it was televised from the start, then what an advert for cycling."
It has been proved with increasing frequency that short mountain stages lend themselves to attacking racing and the action between the general classification contenders duly kicked off on first climb, the Col de Saises. There were more attacks on the Aravis but it was on the Colombière that Porte was isolated and dropped, setting up a nail-biting final climb as the Australian tried to cling on.
"Richie did one hell of a ride with everyone ganging up on him," said Martin in his ITV interview. "I wasn't attacking but everyone else seemed to be taking it in turns to attack him and then make him him work.
"It seemed people were willing to lose the Dauphiné to make Richie lose it. So it was a strange race. I just wish everyone would race so aggressively at the Tour, because nobody attacks like that at the Tour."
Last year's Tour – and this is a trend that goes back a few years – was controlled by a Team Sky stranglehold and it was widely concluded that ASO designed the 2017 route in the hope of a closer, more open, more aggressive, more unpredictable contest.
Martin agreed, but argued that the major factor isn't the parcours, but rather the mindset of the riders.
"That's the difference between races like this, and the Tour; guys don't want to finish fifth or sixth. They want to win, and they're willing to risk losing fifth or sixth to try and win. At the Tour everyone seems happy to race for ninth or eighth or whatever. I learned that last year the hard way. I lost maybe two or three positions on GC by trying to attack and win stages," Martin told Cyclingnews.
"I hope it's more aggressive this year, I hope it's like this, but there's so much pressure at the Tour just to finish in the top 10 or top five that it … it doesn't negate the racing, but yeah. The route of the Tour this year definitely should provoke more aggressive racing. With steeper climbs it's harder to control and it really leaves the best climbers on their own and isolated, and that suits me."
Results were far from Martin's radar at the start of the week, as the Irishman had not raced since Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the second half of April, and having chosen to train at relatively low intensity in Andorra in the intervening month and a half.
Though far from foolproof, the Dauphiné is the most reliable indicator of Tour de France performance, and finishing above Grand Tour winners like Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, and Fabio Aru speaks for itself.
"I've been getting better and better every day – that's what we came here for. To do that on the climb at the end of a hard hot day, I've got to be happy," he said.
"Now I will do a recon of some of the Tour de France stages, fine-tune my condition for the race and wait with confidence for July to come."
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