Dan Martin may have changed teams, but the Etixx-QuickStep rider continues to shine strongly in the Volta a Catalunya, surging past Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) and a host of other top names to take the first mountain top stage win and move into the lead.
A strong wind in the finish kept the favourites grouped together on the final climb of La Molina, which, with its lengthy downhill midsection, was not the hardest of first category climbs. That also made it very difficult to judge exactly when to attack - Chris Froome (Sky), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Richie Porte (BMC Racing) and Contador were all active on the front before Martin made the definitive move.
To say he races well in the Volta a Catalunya for Martin is an understatement, given that together with Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) he is the most prolifically successful racer in the Catalan race taking part this year. 10th last year, Martin won the Volta outright in 2013, in large part thanks to a win at Port Ainé where the Volta a Catalunya finishes on Thursday. He also has a fourth and two second places overall to his name.
Martin’s affection for Catalunya as a race, too, is clear: Girona was his adopted city for many years until he moved on to Andorra, and at the finish, Martin switched from English to Spanish and Catalan to give his answers.
“With a headwind like that it was very tactical,” Martin observed. “It was wait, wait, wait and when I saw it was 500 metres to go, I know I can do that as fast as anybody. I just had to go all out for 500 metres.”
“I was quite confident to win, but my legs were dying then, although with the altitude it was dificult to make an effort like that. But the team were incredible, all day they were racing for me and giving me the self-belief I needed to try to go for winning the stage.”
Already the winner of a stage of the Volta a Valencia this year but forced to skip Tirreno-Adriatico because of a spell of illness in the Tour of Oman, Catalunya represents something of a voyage in the dark for Martin, given, as he told Cyclingnews on Monday, it has been a while since he raced. However, what is clear is that switching squads over the winter and adapting to a different team environment has not proved to be an obstacle for Martin.
Asked if he was stronger than when he won the the race outright, Martin answered “I don’t know. I have had a really good winter, and worked really hard. The last two or three years I’ve had a lot of bad luck, now I’ve got this team that really believes in me 100 percent, will work 100 percent for me and that belief, that confidence is really showing in the results.”
Martin said, logically, that he would do his best to defend the lead on tomorrow’s stage, but that “either way it’s a dream start to the season. Hopefully it’ll continue like this.”
Given the impressive line-up at Catalunya this year, and the minimal margins overall - Contador is at six seconds, Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) at eight and Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing) at 12 seconds, and a host of all the other top names only a little further back. - it will be a hard task for Martin to defend that lead. But as Brian Holm, Etixx-Quick Step director on the race told Cyclingnews, Martin’s victory is all the more impressive, because “to beat those guys you have to have really good legs.”
“We had a meeting this morning, he said he thought he could go for the win, and the whole team was pretty good. We had three or four guys in the front group and Julien Alaphilippe up there in the break, which was good just in case.”
“Sky and the other squads then did a lot of controlling on the front and then it was just up to the legs on the last climb.” As for tomorrow, he said, “I think Mr. Richie Porte will be a big factor, we could see he was strong today, but there are lots of riders to watch. So we’ll just celebrate this tonight and then see what happens.”
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