Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) recovered from a difficult moment on stage 11 of the Tour de France to bounce back and eventually gain time on a number of his potential GC rivals. Martin was briefly dropped on the final climb to La Rosière, just as stage winner and new race leader Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) attacked with five kilometres to go. However, as the pace in the chase group eased, Martin returned to the fray and immediately responded with an attack of his own.
Only Chris Froome (Team Sky) was able to match Martin on the final slopes, and although Froome later distanced him, Martin came out of the stage with his top-five chances much enhanced. He finished sixth on the stage and jumped from 17th overall at the start of the stage to 10th, 3:16 behind Thomas.
"It was opportunity," Martin explained as he began to warm down on the rollers.
"I saw that the other guys had stopped and I thought why not give it a go. I knew that in that last four kilometres everyone would be looking at each other, so if there was a chance of getting a gap then there was a chance of getting some time back."
Martin knew La Rosière from the Critérium du Dauphiné and used that experience wisely as he measured his allowance on the final climb. When Froome latched on to his attack the pair began to work and immediately began to put time into Nairo Quintana, Romain Bardet and Vincenzo Nibali with 30 seconds Martin's reward at the finish. Although Froome dropped him and Teams Sky are one-two in the race, Martin was encouraged by his performance. He attacked on stage 10 but saw his efforts reeled in but his stage 11 exploits were the clearest indication that the Mûr de Bretagne winner has come through the Roubaix stage and the subsequent rest day in fine fettle.
The time lost due to a crash on stage 8 severely dented any podium hopes but Martin's day-by-day mantra is perhaps his best approach given the ground he has lost to the current top three of Thomas, Froome and Tom Dumoulin, with the latter gaining a handful of seconds.
"After the crash, I'm not really thinking about time or GC. I'm just going to race every day and see the results at the end. Any day you can have a bad day and lose a lot of time, so I'll take it day by day. I didn't plan on going that deep today and I thought some of the guys would wait for tomorrow but the speed of the race all day was fast. There are going to be some tired bodies tomorrow.
"I just love racing in the mountains. It's a lot of fun out there and the last two days they don't feel like races, I've just enjoyed it. It's a strange enjoyment because it hurts like hell but this is the race that you think about all year. About racing in these mountains, with these crowds. There's no feeling like it."
Martin's performance put Quintana, Nibali and Bardet in the shade and along with Dumoulin, who attacked before the climb, the Irishman was the only late resistance Team Sky faced. On stage 10, he declared that riders were afraid of attacking Team Sky and the British team's dominance was clear for all to see. They held firm when Movistar's Alejandro Valverde attacked, and on the early slopes of the final climb, Team Sky still had six riders at the front of affairs. This Tour has the strong possibility of repeating the 2012 edition when Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome finished first and second. There is still a lot of road to cover before the race reaches Paris but the with Martin still willing and able to attack, the race remains somewhat open. Martin still believes that Team Sky are beatable.
"The speed is so high that everyone is on the limit. Even Chris and Geraint are on the limit. That's why when Geraint went, everyone went….wow. It's an incredibly hard day, especially with the heat but I'm happy with my feelings and hopefully, I'll have good legs tomorrow. I think Chris was just taking advantage of the race. Everyone was dead and if you're feeling good then you have to make it count.
"Everyone had a go today. It was a really open race. Movistar tried to break it up and then Dumoulin had a go as well. It just depends on the course, and they [Sky] are not unbeatable. They're incredibly strong at the moment but everyone has a bad day at some point. I've said it before but this Tour is about who has the least bad, bad day. If it wasn't for my crash and that time loss I'd be in a very nice position right now. I'd be fourth without that crash."