After two stage wins in the Vuelta a España and the Tour de France stretching back over a ten year period, Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) has finally claimed a narrow but well-deserved solo Giro d'Italia stage win at the stage 17 summit finish of Sega di Ala.
"I didn't know I had won it until I was at 100 metres to go," Martin told reporters after crossing the line with a 13-second advantage over counter-attacker João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep).
However, Martin's victory was anything but poorly calculated with the Irishman gauging his strength to perfection on the relentlessly steep slopes of the Sega di Ala.
And Martin said later that having attacked the break of the day early on, his good pacing on the nine-kilometre climb with an average gradient of 10 per cent, as well as checking out the climb beforehand, were both crucial factors in his victory.
"I came here with [sports director] Claudio Cozzi after the Tour of the Alps for a recon and it was very important. I could see right away it was a climb that suited me and that it was a climb you could race on, very hard, but not such a steep climb that it's almost impossible to get a gap."
"I also knew that there was a really hard section with about four kilometres to go and that I couldn't risk going into the red zone there, but that then the last 2.5 kilometres were much easier and gave you a chance to recover.
"It's an incredible climb, one that hasn't been used before in the Giro and it's an honour to win here. I'm sure it'll be back on the race soon."
Stage wins apart, it would be wrong to say that Martin had a score to settle with the Giro, but because he has barely ridden it, his impact on the Italian Grand Tour has been low until today.
Prior to 2021, Martin had raced the Giro d'Italia in 2010 when he was all but a rookie pro, although he claimed a top 10 placing on the Zoncolan, even so. But in 2014, on a memorably rain-soaked night in Belfast, he then crashed out on the opening team time trial when he hit a drain cover at high speed.
"The Giro's a beautiful race, but I've not managed to do it well, apart from 2014 when I was in good shape, but then it didn't go well," Martin reflected.
"This was the first time I came here with a real ambition of getting a stage. The better weather has definitely helped me with that, and I knew this finish was perfect for me, and that's how it's turned out.
"It's impossible to compare my wins in the different Grand Tours, but right now this one feels amazing."
However, Martin admitted that it had been a close-run thing, one where he didn't know for certain if he would succeed until within sight of the finishing gantries.
"The guys worked brilliantly to put me in the breakaway, but it was a very strong headwind on the valley road, and it killed the momentum of the group. We got to the bottom of the climb with just over a minute and I was not optimistic.
"But I was feeling good, and I knew that if I rode tempo, I wouldn't be easy to catch."
Having dropped his breakaway companions and settled into a rhythm, Martin was aware that the GC contenders were intent on chasing him down but that they would be attacking on the steeper section, too, and then they would be suffering badly as a result.
"I thought if I could hold a good gap and go as hard as I could, maybe I'd kill their morale," Martin said, "and I'd be taking advantage of their doing accelerations behind."
"I paced the climb very well, but I can't believe I won. I came to the Giro with the idea of winning a stage, but it's one thing having an idea and an ambition, and another thing doing it. So I'm very happy for the whole (Israel Start-Up Nation) organisation."
On a far more serious note, Martin agreed instantly when asked by a reporter if he would send a message of support to the five-year-old Israeli child who is the sole survivor of the horrendous cable car accident which recently took place in northern Italy. The boy remains in hospital in Turin, but was set to be woken from a medically induced coma today.
"Of course," Martin agreed. "We talked about it in the bus this morning, and [the message of support] is not just for the Israeli family but everybody involved in this tragedy. It's something that touches the race, too, because we were supposed to go there on Friday" - the Mottarone mountain pass where the accident happened, was removed from the day's stage.
"It's horrific what happened. It's a tragedy for all involved."
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