Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin) was in an upbeat mood after a driving attack on the Vuelta a Espana’s uphill finish on stage 6 saw the Irishman claim second on the stage, and move up to third overall..
Warming down on the rollers outside the team bus after the stage, Martin recognised to Cyclingnews that if Chaves had been unreachable following the Colombian’s devastating attack, Martin had nonetheless felt in strong form on what was - after his fourth place at El Caminito del Rey on stage two - another impressive climbing performance in the 2015 Vuelta.
"It was a finish that suited me and from the start I felt good," Martin said, who took his first ever Grand Tour stage win and briefly held the lead in the King of the Mountains competition in the Vuelta in 2011.
With temperatures reaching the high thirties celsius during the stage, Martin said "I had a ridiculous number of bottles from these boys" - gesturing to the team staff - "keeping me well watered all day and I think I seem to race well in the heat."
"With hindsight, even though I did well on stage 2, I wasn’t so great then, but now I just keep getting better and better."
Chaves, he says, was racing at an hugely impressive level - or as Martin graphically put it, "Esteban… shit, he was strong. He went away at the bottom [of the final climb] and then when I went, there was a bit of a headwind so that was why I didn’t get a gap at first."
"I saw [Dani] Navarro (Cofidis) was on my wheel and suffering so I put in a little bit of an acceleration and just gapped him, then focused on the front."
After that, with Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) up the road, Martin said he had used the Dutchman as a moving target. "I focused on catching at the last corner and expected it to get steeper, so I held back a little bit. But I wouldn’t have caught Chaves."
Now third overall, Martin says the GC is "definitely" on his radar, although having already raced the Tour this year he is cautious about his chances. "I’m almost waiting for the wheels to fall off," he says with a chuckle.
Having last tried the Vuelta and Tour double in 2013 but crashed out he says, "I’ve got no idea [how far I can go]. After 2013, this is really the first time that I’ve really gone for GC in the second Grand Tour of the year and it’s the second time I’ve done a second Grand Tour in the same year, too. So we could get to stage 11 or stage 15 and the wheels fall off, you know.
"But at the moment I feel excellent, really good, but then again a three kilometre uphill finish is very different to a sixteen kilometre uphill finish," like the one that the riders will tackle on Friday on the Alpujarras.
Quite apart from the impact of the race’s first major mountain climb, Martin predicts the heat, too, will be again a big factor on the Vuelta’s final stage in southern Spain, "and if the guys haven’t eaten well and drunk well today, then tomorrow they’re going to suffer. Hopefully, though, I’ve got it right and will be able to recover for tomorrow." So far, though, Martin’s Vuelta is going very well indeed.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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