Daniel Martin's fourth place in La Flèche Wallonne was a slow burn. The Garmin-Sharp Irishman was stoked with his finish on the Mur de Huy, but it was juxtaposed against a case of so close, yet so far.
"To get so close to the podium, by only a couple of inches..." The first words uttered to the media, his face caked in sweat and dust, a brown film coating his sunglasses.
"Flèche Wallonne is probably my favourite race of the year," Martin grinned, the 205km effort still etched on his face. "It's a beautiful race but... so close to the podium."
The first of his teammates to seek Martin out in the chaos beyond the finish line was German champion Fabian Wegman.
"I'm this far from the podium," Martin gestured. "Fourth. Thanks man."
Short of the podium, the recent Volta a Catalunya overall winner was deeming Wednesday's finish as a definite result. Suffering a puncture with 25km left to race a spare wheel from Peter Stetina had him on his way again, but things looked grim for the Garmin team, with Ryder Hesjedal also victim of a mechanical. Carrying obvious great form, and showing no signs of the crash which resulted in a DNF against his name on Sunday at Amstel Gold Race, Martin and Hesjedal made it back to the front of the race and in position with the 30 or so riders that were first to the base of the Mur de Huy. Martin could be seen sticking close to the wheel of Amstel winner Roman Kreuziger, which on the face of it, wasn't a bad ploy, but he revealed that it was never about a game of marksmanship.
"I concentrated on racing the climb instead of racing the riders," Martin said with Carlos Alberto Betancur (Ag2r-La Mondiale) exploding out of the saddle and up the road on his own, 2011 winner Philippe Gilbert and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) leading the chase with eventual winner Daniel Moreno (Katusha).
"You have to try and get to the top and those guys obviously blew, they went too hard too early and misjudged it."
When those three went clear, Martin stuck to his own plan, fighting his pedals to get up the final part of the ascent before the comparatively flat final few metes before the finish line, weaving his way through the riders ahead who had nothing left to give.
"I just kept my head," Martin said. "I got a bit stuck behind guys and that kind of slowed me down. Then I finished really strong again. Maybe I got the pace judgement a bit wrong but I don't think I could have done much better, maybe third. I'm happy."
Martin's fourth place on Wednesday betters last year's effort when he finished sixth, perhaps indicating that a podium at the Ardennes is not too far away. He called it "progression." Chipping away at the Mur, Martin is wearing it down in the hope of a breakthrough.
"I'm not sure I know the secret yet because I didn't win."
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