Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) has said all week that he has come to the Critérium du Dauphiné 'just to race my bike', with no pressure for results after a break of nearly a month. But his performance on stage 6, which went up and down the Mont du Chat, suggested a solid GC placing is well within his grasp and, more importantly, that things are perfectly on track ahead of the Tour de France.
The Irishman rolled with the punches as the GC group thinned, and went after Fabio Aru as the Italian made his bid for freedom near the top of the HC climb. Caught and passed near the summit by a mini group containing Richie Porte and Chris Froome, he rode a cautious descent and came home with Romain Bardet and Alejandro Valverde, sixth on the stage.
"It really hurt – it was the hardest I've gone on a climb for a long, long time, but the legs were really good, I had a great cadence. It's strange, it's the same as this time last year – I couldn't really push, I could only really spin it. It was a crazy high cadence but I couldn't push a big gear.
"When Richie and Chris came back to me I just hung on as long as I could. I had a really bad moment with about 1.5km to the top and lost a fair bit of time.
"At the top of the downhill they had all the motorbikes in front of them, and I had nothing – I couldn't see anything, it was completely blind on the downhill. I'm not here for results; I'm here to get my legs going, so zero risks on the downhill."
After an encouraging stage 4 time trial performance, where the final time was mitigated by a mechanical problem, Martin now lies seventh overall, with two summit finishes remaining. After spending over a month away from racing, most of which was spent at altitude near his base in Andorra, Martin cut an enthusiastic figure as he discussed his Tour de France build-up.
"I haven't done any intensity at all, because I know this race will get me going just fine. That's why I have no idea where I'm at," he said.
"The time trial was the first test, today was another test, and yeah, I'm just trying to get through the week as stress-free as possible. If you've noticed, I've been sitting at the back all week, staying out of trouble. If it's a little bit harder, I don't really mind – it's more trying to keep stress-free because there's a lot of stress coming up in July.
"But I'm really happy with where I am."