Dan Martin, like just about everybody else, was in a place beyond words when he reached the summit of San Giacomo after stage 6 of the Giro d’Italia. A grey and grisly day of racing in the Marche had ended with a full-throated contest above Ascoli Piceno, and Martin’s third place finish was certainly worth talking about.
After Martin wheeled to a halt past the finish, journalists duly hurried their way along the barriers in search of a quote, but amid the eddying wind and rain, it would have been something akin to cruelty to make him linger any longer.
Instead they simply watched as Martin, his teeth chattering, was helped wordlessly into a long-sleeved jacket by a waiting soigneur and then pushed off to find his team bus further down the climb.
In matching Egan Bernal and Remco Evenepoel pedal stroke for pedal stroke in those frantic final kilometres, Martin’s performance spoke for itself, even if he was reluctant to talk up his general classification prospects when he spoke with reporters in Notaresco on Friday morning, where the Giro gruppo was for once flagged away beneath warm sunshine.
“It’s a weird situation at the moment, I’ve got zero expectations for this race at all,” Martin said. “I know I’m feeling good, my numbers were good in training and I’m so relaxed mentally and feeling zero pressure. I’m just trying to enjoy the race, even if the weather’s been pretty bad so far.
"I don’t like it when it's wet and cold but I seem to be going well anyway. I’m just going into the finals really relaxed and letting them play out. Yesterday I had the legs to be there, but that’s not going to happen every day.”
In the overall standings, Martin now lies ninth overall, 47 seconds off maglia rosa Attila Valter (Groupama-FDJ), a little over half a minute behind Evenpoel and Bernal, and just ahead of Simon Yates. After recording his best ever Grand Tour finish of 4th at last November’s Vuelta a España, Martin is a logical podium contender here, even he is loath to say it.
“The goals that you set yourself, they don’t really apply to me. The goal is to get to Milan and see what position I’m in, so there’s no goal,” said Martin, though he did acknowledge that he is in Italy in search of a high finish rather than stage victories.
“I like riding for the GC and I realised at the Tour last year that I really missed it. I’d love to do both, but it is looking more and more tricky to get a stage victory when you ride for the GC because a lot of stages here will be decided by the breakaway.”
As an amateur, Martin enjoyed success in Italy at the Giro della Valle d’Aosta, and as a professional he has won Il Lombardia and the Tre Valli Varesine, but this is just his third appearance in the Giro, a race that ought to lend itself to his talents as a climber and puncheur. His first appearance in 2010, however, he was blighted by allergies – a problem long since resolved – while his second Giro ended just kilometres into the opening team time trial in Belfast in 2014.
“Of course, it's always been a thing for me, that I hadn’t been back. But it’s also true that I focused on the Ardennes Classics and the Tour, so it never fitted, and there’s also sponsor pressure too. The teams I was on sent me to the Tour,” said Martin.
The fundamental premise of every Grand Tour is the same, but each has its own distinct modes. Martin has appeared to cope intuitively with the staccato rhythm to the opening phase of this Giro, where hilltop finishes have been punctuated by flat – and often fraught – finales.
“It’s incredible to feel an atmosphere at a race, this is the first time since the start of the pandemic. It feels strange still,” said Martin. “But it’s really hard to compare Grand Tours, because it all depends on the nature and the terrain of each country and what it offers. It’s been a strange first week because it’s been very hilly but also a lot of stress, with one day on and then one day off: sprint, climb, sprint climb.
“The weather has also made it harder than any Grand Tour I’ve done in the last few years. I think the real Giro is the final week, the real brutal mountain stages that you don't really get in the Tour and the Vuelta. That’s where we’ll see the real character of the race come through.”
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