Dan Martin’s Vuelta Diary, Stage 3: The legs are feeling better as both Nico and I are getting close to top form

Things could get interesting in the weeks ahead with my cousin looking like a real contender

Obviously my cousin Nicolas Roche and I aren’t team-mates like when we were in the London Olympics together, but we still may be able to help each other out. Photograph: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Obviously my cousin Nicolas Roche and I aren’t team-mates like when we were in the London Olympics together, but we still may be able to help each other out. Photograph: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Tue, Aug 27, 2013, 11:00

Stage three, Vigo to Mirador de Lobeira (172.5km): Fifth on the stage and up there fighting at the end; I’m going much better than I expected at this point of the Vuelta a Espana. I definitely needed Sunday’s mountain stage to take away the sluggish legs that I had and I felt a lot better after yesterday’s stage.

I knew the finish was one that could in theory be good for me, but because I was playing it cautious with my training after being sick in the Tour de France, my hopes weren’t too high. As I said before the race, it will take me a week or so to really start firing on all cylinders. Yet I realised during the stage that I was feeling really good.

All day I had the impression that my legs were definitely coming back. I think the harder race with the crosswinds we had favoured me – it was an aggressive day as regards fighting for position, and I could feel myself coming around. My Garmin-Sharp team-mates Johan Vansummeren and Tyler Farrar were fantastic for me, really helping me stay in the right place.

At the end it came down to a pretty big group arriving at the bottom of the final climb, the four kilometre Mirador de Lobeira/Vilagarcía de Arousa.

I had really good position heading into the foot of it. The Orica GreenEdge team riders went really hard right from the five kilometres to go mark. I knew that hectic pace would have to slow at some part, so I just stayed on the wheels waiting for that.

Marked man
Nico [Nicolas Roche] attacked with just over a kilometre to go. I thought it was the perfect move, but people weren’t willing to give him as much leash as he got on Sunday. After winning the stage and moving up to second overall, he is obviously a marked man now. He was closed down by the others. As the group stalled I went for my big attack but suddenly the road was blocked in front of me, with guys moving into my path. I had to slam on the brakes and that was the same moment that Chris Horner attacked.

It was the perfect point to jump and he got a gap on the others, then held on to win. I had to reaccelerate after being blocked and just try to follow Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez, the riders who finished second and third overall last year.

I had to weave around a few other guys at the finish, but to get fifth on the stage already is really promising for the next few weeks. I really didn’t expect to have my form where it is so soon. It should continue to pick up so I am really happy going forward. The legs are just getting better and better, so that is a massive bonus.

I didn’t get to speak to Nico on Sunday after his win so I said that I’d do so on stage three. We had a chance before the start, although we didn’t have a chance to do so during the stage as it was really a stressful day’s racing.

As I said on Sunday, Nico had a tough year and so it was great to see him win a stage and be up there overall. It seems clear that he is becoming the team leader of Saxo Bank for this race now, I think. He is riding in the peloton with a lot of confidence. Nico gave up his own chances in order to help Alberto Contador during the Tour, but now he has got one of the strongest teams in the race helping him out. He’s also got a lot of motivation after winning a stage.

It is going to be interesting in the weeks to come now, having both of us in top form and trying to outdo each other in terms of stage wins.

I just hope that things don’t get a bit awkward, tactics-wise. I would never chase him down on purpose but if I want to win the bike race, I might have to a couple of times! We are obviously on rival teams and we are going to be racing against each other. However, he is not my biggest rival and if we can help each other out, we definitely will be doing that. Especially in the high mountains.

The race continues now with a stage to Fisterra. The finish has a short uphill but it’s not complicated; it’s more a ramp than a mountain.

Tricky category
However, there’s a tricky category three climb with just over 30 kilometres to go. It has got a maximum gradient of nearly 30 per cent, and the climb goes on for two kilometres. We are actually planning on using gears of 34x28.

I don’t think there is going to be flat out up it, but it is definitely going to split the peloton and there will be a smaller group at the top. As a result I don’t think it is going to be a bunch sprint . . . there might instead be a gallop from a smaller group.

If that happens, I might actually look at trying to get up there on the stage. However, I’m not sure if I have my sprinting legs at the moment . . . we’ll see.

The main aim now is just to get through these next few stages without losing time. I think I am in a very good position in terms of how my form is improving. As a result, I am definitely thinking a little bit more about the general classification now.

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