The French rider, who came eighth in the Tour de France this year, had been in second place at the start of the day just 54 seconds back from the red jersey of Odd Christian Eiking (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) but had struggled to the end of stage 16 after getting caught in a crash, where he hit his left leg, back and his rib, resulting in breathing difficulties. He could have perhaps moved into the leader's red jersey but his crash, the brutal finish atop Lagos de Covadonga and Primož Roglič's attack with Egan Bernal ended hids chances.
“Yesterday I had really bad feelings so I am not completely confident about today, but you never know how the body reacts,” said Martin before the stage. “I’m quite pessimistic to be honest, but I will give everything and I will see.
It wasn’t an easy day to be nursing an injury, with wet conditions and aggressive racing in the 185.8km stage across the Asturias mountains, which included three categorised climbs, going twice up the category 1 Collada Llomena and finishing atop Lagos de Covadonga.
For a while it looked like Martin might hold firm, staying within the key chase group that was pursuing the break of Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) until the final ten kilometres.
Riding with support from Cofidis teammate Rémy Rochas, Martin fought to limit the losses, ultimately finishing in 15th place, four minutes and 46 seconds behind stage winner and race leader Roglič. That saw him slip three spots on the overall to fifth, 4:16 behind the red jersey, but only just over a minute off the podium.
"I was hoping for a quieter day but it was quite the opposite,” said Martin on Twitter after the stage. “I had better feelings than I thought. I managed to hang on but in the end it was harder."
“Battle against myself and against the pain today,” said Martin, who entered the Vuelta with a top-ten finish and stage victory as a target. “15th in the stage, and now 5th overall: a result that I did not expect this morning when I woke up, following my crash.”
Martin and the rest of the contenders now face another tough day in the mountains, with stage 18 delivering three classified climbs before reaching the brutal finale of the Gaimoniteiru, nearly 15 kilometres long and with an average gradient of 9.8 per cent.
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