It’s been a long wait for Dan Martin, who until today had to trawl all the way back to the 2018 Tour de France and stage 6 on the Mur de Bretagne to find his last win, but on stage 3 of the Vuelta a España the Irishman’s drought ended with a well-timed hilltop sprint against Primož Roglič (Jumbo Visma) and Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers).
The win at La Laguna Negra de Vinuesa after another grueling GC day at the Vuelta also vaulted Martin four seconds closer to Roglič’s race lead, with the Israel Start-Up Nation now just five seconds off the Jumbo rider’s lead and in second place.
However, the small steps made in terms of the overall standing were overshadowed by the relief that washed over Martin at the finish line. In the last two years, he has endured bad luck, crashes, and several injuries that have robbed him of his best form at the most inopportune moments.
For instance, the 34-year-old crashed at the Critérium du Dauphiné in August just as he was coming into shape and was forced out with a fractured his sacrum. He still managed to line up at the Tour de France just a few weeks later but he was a shadow of himself as he battled through the mountains.
He used the Tour as an opportunity to build his form and showed that he was on course for the Vuelta with fifth in La Flèche Wallonne and 11th in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but his Vuelta performances have taken him to another level.
He was third on the opening stage to Arrate, and third again a day later into Lekunberri, but on the final climb to La Laguna Negra there was no margin of error or a rival with a quicker turn of speed. After a brutal round of pace-setting from Ineos Grenadiers on the final climb, a flurry of attacks, a group of almost a dozen riders rounded the final corner and it was Martin who struck first with just under 200m to go.
Roglič attempted to respond and take his second stage win of the race, but the Tour de France runner-up had nothing left when Martin held his pace all the way to the line.
“I’ve come so close to winning this year. I just really wanted to win a stage for this team because they’ve been so good to me. The sponsors have supported us all through COVID. Sylvan Adams and Ron Baron the owners, there were no salary cuts or anything like that. The team were really motivated during lockdown because of that, to train harder,” Martin said at the finish.
“Obviously with the injury at the Tour I couldn’t win a stage, but I was really determined to win a stage today. The team were amazing, and every single one of them played their part in the victory. This win is partly for them and then partly for my wife because this is the first time I’ve won a race since my kids were born and it’s really special,” an emotional Martin added, before he excused himself from the post-stage interview at the line.
Stage 4 is a rare chance for the sprinters in the race, but Thursday’s results demonstrate that Martin is in the best form he’s had for several years. With so few kilometers for the time trialists in the race, he stands an excellent chance of ending his year with a top five in a Grand Tour for the first time in his long career.
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