saved the best performance for last in the Critérium du Dauphiné, netting a superb second on the final stage and finishing third overall in the race.
The Etixx-QuickStep rider had started the day fourth overall, and in launching his uphill sprint from a long way out he opened a gap up over several key rivals, including Chris Froome (Sky), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) and Richie Porte (BMC Racing Team).
That five-second gap, plus a time bonus for second on the stage, moved him up one place in the overall standings and on to the final podium. Porte was the rider who missed out, with both French climber Romain Bardet (Ag2r la Mondiale) and Martin overtaking him in the general classification.
Martin ended the eight-day contest 19 seconds behind 2013 and 2015 Tour de France winner Froome. He was seven seconds behind Bardet and, in beating Porte and Contador, has shown that he has reached a new level.
It is the best-ever performance by an Irish rider in the Critérium du Dauphiné, a key warm-up for the Tour de France.
“This achievement makes me really proud,” he said. “To be the first one that does something special for my country is fantastic. I’m going home satisfied and motivated to continue my preparation for the Tour de France and work on my explosiveness. My goal is to be ready, fresh and as relaxed as possible at the start of the Tour.”
Martin started the day with a fresh confidence after gapping all of the other contenders on Saturday's finish. Frenchmen Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Bardet were clear; had that not been the case, he would have taken the stage victory. As a result that was a key target on yesterday's concluding leg.
“Today we wanted to try to win the stage and get the bonus seconds, because it would have helped us secure the podium.”
However that was scuppered by a strong long-range break by Briton Steve Cummings (Team Dimension Data), who had too much time at hand to be hauled back before the finish.
“When Cummings went he was too far ahead, so we changed the plan and we focused on improving our general classification,” said Martin. “On the second-to-last climb Contador attacked and I suffered, but I managed to come back on the downhill.
“We were aware there was a strong headwind on the final ascent, so I waited for as long as possible before accelerating. Bardet was following me, but I went full gas and never looked over my shoulder.”