Thursday's penultimate stage of the Tour of the Alps, from Naturno to Pieve di Bono, was a day of mixed emotion for Israel Start-Up Nation as Chris Froome enjoyed a day in the break while Dan Martin fell victim to a late crash, losing a potential podium spot in the process.
Froome got away among a group of 11 riders on the Passo Castrin early on the tough mountain day, riding in the break alongside Hermann Pernsteiner (Bahrain Victorious), Nicolas Roche (Team DSM), Luis León Sánchez (Astana-Premier Tech), among others.
The Briton, who is aiming for this year's Tour de France after recovering from his career-threatening crash at the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné, rode with his breakaway companions for the majority of the stage, until Team BikeExchange brought the move back just before the Castel Condino climb, 18 kilometres from the line.
Froome, riding his third race at ISN after the UAE Tour and Volta a Catalunya, said after the stage that he enjoyed his day out front, his first since his comeback began at the 2020 UAE Tour.
"I think this was the first time I have been in a breakaway since the Giro d’Italia of 2018," Froome said afterwards. "I really enjoyed being up there today, testing the legs a bit. Especially as the break went away on a quite hard section after a bunch of attacks.
"It was a shame that we never got much of a gap, but it was still a good experience to be up there again. I can feel that the condition is slowly improving and I’m pretty happy with how the legs are feeling."
While Froome may have had a good day – a more positive outing than some of the tougher mountain stages he has tackled so far in 2021 – it was a different story for team leader Martin.
The Irishman sat in fourth overall, 1:04 down on green jersey owner Simon Yates, after stage 3, and was among the strongest men on the decisive, 10-kilometre, 6.8 per cent Castel Condino climb. He and Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) were the men able to follow when Yates went three kilometres from the top, but he was detached before the top and led the chase on the way down the other side.
However, Martin's hopes of making it back to the leaders and scrapping for a podium place were ended on the fast and technical descent. He overshot a corner early on, hitting the ground before he got going again.
In the end, Martin finished 2:53 down in 23rd place, out of GC contention ahead of Friday's final stage to Riva del Garda, but able to keep on racing and look towards Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Giro d'Italia.
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