Four stages into the 2016 Tour de France the peloton is offered a medium mountains stage on day five. For Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) it's time to step forward. The 29-year-old Irishman is amongst a stack of GC riders who haven't lost time so far, all tied in fourth place at 18 seconds from race leader Peter Sagan (Tinkoff).
So far this season Martin has been going very well. Early on in the season he won a stage in the Volta a la Communitat Valenciana and also in the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya. He was third in La Flèche Wallonne and most recently third overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné. Together with young teammate Julian Alaphilippe he'll be leading the Etixx-QuickStep team on Wednesday.
It was a delighted Martin who rolled towards the Etixx-QuickStep team bus after completing the fourth stage from Saumur to Limoges. Unsurprisingly, as the team's sprinter Marcel Kittel had just captured the team's first win in the Tour de France with a narrow victory over Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie). While being congratulated by director sportif Wilfried Peeters,Kittel said he couldn't believe his eyes.
"With seven kilometres to go we were going really hard on the climb. He sailed back a little bit, possibly to save his legs. I hadn't seen him come back. It's a special victory. It's not an ideal Marcel-finish," Martin said while spinning down on the rollers next to the team bus.
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On Wednesday the GC riders will find a first stage to battle each other in the Massif Central. There are six categorized climbs featured in the 216km stage, with five of them in the final 80km. Martin acknowledged that it seemed like a stage for the big guns but he expected a different scenario.
"On paper, yes, but it's also a good day for the breakaway. Who's going to chase," he wondered. "Look at stage 2. A lot of teams are nervous to spend energy this early in the race and also a bit scared to commit and letting their rivals gain from them. Nobody wants to chase the break and let someone else win. The sprinter teams always seem to work together well. Nobody goes for the stage win. If it's one of the GC guys then he gets the jersey. Nobody will want that this early in the race. We'll see."
It's a plausible theory that the GC riders will let the breakaway group go the distance and allow another team to get the yellow jersey in order to save energy. Nevertheless, the GC riders might be testing each other out in the final kilometres of the stage to see if they can gain time.
"I'm not sure. It depends on how the race unfolds. It's going to be hard for sure. Everybody is nervous to be losing time so it goes faster and faster in the peloton. Also today, with 70 kilometres to go it was already crazy. It's not chasing the break, it's just teams fighting for position to avoid crashes, it's crazy. It's a bit stupid. It's going to be a really hard day tomorrow, especially the heat chops in the system."
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