Daniel Martin (Garmin-Barracuda) capped a superb Ardennes with fifth place in Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday. The Irishman was one of the strongest riders in the finale, while his Canadian teammate Ryder Hesjedal rounded out a successful day for the squad with ninth place.
At the finish, a clearly exhausted Martin parked himself on the bonnet of a Garmin team car before talking to the press. Along with paying tribute to the work his team had carried out for him and Hesjedal, he described the progress he has made since turning professional.
There have been notable successes since his first pro contract in 2009 but perhaps one of the most important came last autumn when Martin finished second in the Giro di Lombardia. According to Martin, it gave him and his team confidence in him to attack the Ardennes with a realistic chance of a major result. Two top 10 places in Fleche and today in Liege are testament to the belief from both rider and team.
"It would be a dream to win this race but now it's becoming a realistic dream," he said.
"The team showed belief in me after my Lombardia performance and that definitely gave me confidence over the winter to make these races an objective."
"I came here looking to get some results, and it's the first time I've really shown in these races before. It's pretty promising for the future, and it shows progression and that I'm getting stronger every year. I think these races are a lot about experience as well and there were a couple of times today and on Wednesday that I've lacked a bit of experience but we're definitely getting there now and it's been a good week."
Martin was more than just a passenger on his way to fifth, attacking the group of favourites after Vincenzo Nibali had launched his attack on the penultimate climb.
Joined by Pierre Rolland, Martin set about reducing the gap to Nibali and the counter attack that included Joaquim Rodriguez and eventual winner Maxim Iglinskiy.
However with Rolland no more than a passenger, Martin had little chance of making inroads into the leaders' time gaps. Rodriguez was eventually reeled in, but by then Martin had also been dragged back by the remnants of the favourites.
"I think you saw in the final that nobody had any legs left and nobody could make a difference and then it was a slow motion sprint at the end when you've got nothing left. We rode a really good race and the team worked really well for us today. Ryder and I went into it protected and were both there in the top 10. It's a really good result for the team and I'm pretty happy," he said.
"I didn't even know Nibali had gone. Ryder and I actually got dropped on the (Cote de La Roche aux) Faucons and and we rode together to get back. That shows the level of teamwork we've got. There was a lot of messing around, Astana had a couple of riders and Katusha was blocking as well, so we took it in turns to get away, and I was the lucky one to get away and got a gap."
With another year of Spring Classics under his belt, Martin's stock continues to rise. Still just 25, he has perhaps 10 editions of Liege left to secure the Classic win of which he dreams, but today, as he returned to the Garmin team bus, he could chalk up his fifth place as a step in the right direction.
"I'm happy, definitely," he said.
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