This has been a Tour de France of highs and lows for UAE Team Emirates' Dan Martin. But, assuming he holds his place on the GC, he will ride into Paris on Sunday with a stage win and eighth overall to his name.
The Irishman came into this year's Tour hoping to challenge for a podium spot, but lost time at key points in the race. Despite a stage win at Mûr-de-Bretagne on stage 6, he never truly troubled the likes of Geraint Thomas (Sky), Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) or LottoNL-Jumbo's Primoz Roglic.
That said, Martin was one of this year's most animated riders in the mountains. He attacked at almost every opportunity, and laid the groundwork for others with his accelerations, including Movistar's Nairo Quintana on stage 17.
Top 10 results on six stages for Martin once again displayed his consistency. At the finish line in Laruns at the end of stage 19 on Friday, where he took fourth place, Martin could look back at a satisfying Tour.
"Quite often I take a step back and think, 'Shit, this is cool.' And it is cool – it's amazing," said Martin. "There's something really special about this race. When you're climbing single file like that on a mountain pass, and there are all the screaming fans, then you have that goose-bump moment.
"It's a very special feeling to be racing at the front at the Tour de France, so we're racing with a smile on our faces. I think that the atmosphere tomorrow [Satursay] will be even better. It'll be something to savour."
On the final mountain stage, Martin was briefly put into difficulty, but bounced back to attack and then finish with the favourites a few seconds after Roglic won the stage with a late downhill attack.
"It's a group of very tired men trying to race their bikes fast," Martin said. "The whole peloton is just so tired after three weeks of racing, and I think you saw quite a bit of attacking and aggression there. In retrospect, it will be fun, but at the time I was just tired.
"I didn't know that it was a headwind sprint. Roglic got away on the downhill, and we're talking about the TV motorbikes again," said Martin, referring to Roglic possibly having gained an advantage from them being too close to him. "It's not his fault, but it's just the way it is.
"It's a pity we couldn't go for the stage victory," Martin continued. "That was in the back of my mind, and that's why I held on at the top of the climb. Then it was a bit dodgy on the downhill because of the mist, but that's just another dimension that makes the Tour the Tour."
Martin was asked whether he was happy with his Tour. He may not have challenged for the podium due to several factors but his attacks in the mountains, and his second career stage win at the Tour, helped to define the race. He took the fight to a dominant Team Sky, despite often being isolated in the mountains, and did more than just follow when the race was being decided.
"Whatever the results, I would have been happy. As a team we've had a great race and there's been a great atmosphere. From day one we've been laughing and joking on the bus."
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