The overall winner of the Critérium du Dauphiné on Sunday, Dani Martinez, had been overlooked before signing with EF Pro Cycling for the 2018 season, according to team boss Jonathan Vaughters, and now forms part of a Colombian-climbing triumvirate at his US WorldTour squad, alongside Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Higuita, which could be about to take this year's rescheduled Tour de France by storm.
With overnight Dauphiné leader Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) a non-starter for the final stage due to injuries sustained the previous day, it thrust the overall title wide open, with Martinez starting stage 5 on Sunday just 12 seconds behind new race leader Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ). And when Martinez bridged across to breakway duo Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Pavel Sivakov (Team Inoes) ahead of the penultimate climb of the Côte de Cordon, Pinot couldn't follow, despite the Frenchman's best efforts.
"It's one of the most amazing days of my life," a jubilant Martinez said in a team press release after finishing second on the final stage but doing enough to take the Dauphiné title by 29 seconds from Pinot and 41 seconds from Guillaume Martin (Cofidis). "It's one of the most important races, and I'm just so happy to have achieved it.
"I'm still so tired from the race, and still can't quite believe that it's happened. It's incredible, as the last race we raced was in Colombia and we won," continued Martinez, referring to the Tour Colombia 2.1 in February, which was won by Higuita, with Martinez second and Ecuadorian teammate Jonathan Caicedo third. "And then we've won here today, too, at the Dauphiné.
"I want to say that this race is for all my family and my little boy – this win is for them," added Martinez. "This is for all the people who have believed in me, and the ones who have helped support me for me to be able to arrive at this point.
"This week everyone has worked really hard," the 24-year-old said. "We've had hard times, like with Sergio's crash [on stage 2], but the whole team has really helped me – Rigo, Hugh [Carthy] – all of them, they've been amazing. And also to EF, who support this team. This victory is for them and their staff across the world, too."
Recommended by 'Rigo'
Martinez is part of the modern Colombian cycling renaissance in professional cycling that has already long surpassed that of the 1980s, when the likes of Luis 'Lucho' Herrera and Fabio Parra won mountain classifications and stages at Grand Tours, and Herrera, like Martinez now, won the Critérium du Dauphiné, in both 1988 and 1991.
Along with riders including 2019 Tour de France champion Egan Bernal (Team Ineos), 2014 Giro d'Italia and 2016 Vuelta a España winner Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) and 2016 Giro runner-up Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott), Martinez, Uran and Higuita have been demonstrating their talents on climbing stages at major races, and that Colombian presence appears to be gathering further pace.
"When we signed Dani in 2018 off a Pro Continental team [Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia – today's Vini Zabù-KTM Italian ProTeam squad], it's fair to say he'd been overlooked," said Jonathan Vaughters after his rider's victory on Sunday. "That happens all the time in this sport.
"But Rigo [Rigoberto Uran] recommended him to me, and he believed in Dani. And after a few years of working together, it's clear it was a chance worth taking," he said. "Dani put in the hard yards to get himself to this level, and his style suits this team perfectly. I couldn't be happier for him and for the entire team – notably our Colombian contingent of riders and fans.
"Dani won this race with tactical nous and style – similar to the way this team won the Dauphiné in 2014 with Andrew Talansky," Vaughters continued, referring to the now retired American who pounced from third place overall going into the final stage to leapfrog both Alberto Contador and Chris Froome to take the title six years ago.
"Both those victories were unexpected, dazzling rides that showed not only strength but smarts," said Vaughters. "It's so indicative of who we are as an organization: we're not the powerhouse team, but we find talent and we race with conviction. It's who we are, and it was really clear on the roads today. It brings a huge smile to my face."
While EF Pro Cycling's final eight-rider squad for the upcoming Tour de France is yet to be announced, Martinez is likely to find himself lining up alongside Uran and Higuita in Nice on August 29 for what would be his second Tour, having finished 36th in 2018.
"This has been a really strange season," added Vaughters, "and a really hard time for so many people. For us, this one goes out to EF and those who support us when the chips are down. Today shows the kind of team we really are, and I'm just grateful to have EF in our corner. We'll celebrate this one properly, and see you at the Tour."
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