Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) could not take his first win of this season in the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana’s summit finish of Santa Lucia, but the Irishman has taken away some positive lessons all the same.
His hands slumped over the bars and swigging water in the unusually warm weather at the finish line, race radio persistently - and oddly - insisted that Martin, not Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) had won the stage.
“Not first, fifth,” Martin repeated into his internal radio system through to his team car, “fifth.”
Even if he wasn’t able to fight for the win, Martin nonetheless remained in contention all the way up the ascent, and in the process he has shown rising form with the team's home race, the UAE Tour, looming large on the horizon.
With that in mind, Martin told Cyclingnews that his performance represented another firm step in the right direction. It also has propelled him up to fourth overall at Valenciana, one better – assuming there are no changes on Sunday’s flat stage – than his previous best GC result here, fifth overall in 2017.
“The guys did a great job, and I felt really good, but I haven’t been training for that kind of climb yet,” Martin said. “It really hurt.
The Irishman felt he had been well supported on the approach to Santa Lucia, but on an ascent as disjointed as the four-kilometre climb to the hermitage – which featured sections of false flats and some extraordinarily steep segments – riders were almost fighting individually for their places, rather than it being a team effort.
“It’s a strange climb, too. We were all going as hard as we could, and Yates won ‘cos he was the strongest,” Martin said. “On paper, it looked a lot harder than it was.
“We watched the stage they did here from the Vuelta 2017 and it was the same kind of finish, four or five guys together at the top.
“But it’s been a really good week, the team has really gelled. Obviously, we wanted to try to win today but we have lost two guys already, so we didn’t have the manpower to chase down the break and we had to sit back and let the other guys do it.
“But, then the guys did a great job putting me into position, I’ve never been so relaxed going into a climb. I felt great, did everything right, I didn’t have the legs today, but it’s great practice for the rest of the year.”
Races like Valenciana, too, set Martin up well for his big target of the early spring, the UAE Tour, too. “Definitely. Obviously, my training’s been tailored for that.” And at Valenciana, all the signs are it’s working well.