Dan Martin’s Vuelta hopes now resting on La Covatilla

Irish rider now has his sights set on regaining the third-place podium position

For three weeks they've all been taking each day and each stage as it comes and now it's down to the last big one. For Dan Martin it's also the last chance to regain his podium position, the summit finish on La Covatilla possibly offering something even more.

The popular ski resort south of Salamanca has already hosted five stage finishes of the Vuelta a España, including in 2011, when a 24-year-old Martin produced one of his breakthrough rides and secured his first Grand Tour win, coming on Stage 9 of that year's race, also earning the Irish rider a brief spell in the king of the mountains jersey.

Nine years later, having already won Stage 3 of this year's race, Martin now has his riding shades set on regaining the third-place podium position he'd held from the opening stage, only to lose it to Hugh Carthy after the British rider won the stage finish on the Angliru last Sunday.

Stage 16 from Salamanca into Ciudad Rodrigo provided some final foreplay before the likely race climax, the 162km route featuring plenty more undulating roads, only not enough for a long breakaway to survive. So, Rémi Cavagna of Deceuninck-Quick Step, among those out in front from 30km, was the last to be reeled in with 2km remaining, after which Magnus Cort sprinted off the front to give EF Pro Cycling its’ third stage victory


The peloton had been fractured, only not the General Classification, although race leader Primoz Roglic did finish smartly to take second and help himself to six bonus seconds, which means he now has 45 seconds to spare on second-placed Richard Carapaz, with the strong team of Jumbo-Visma to assist him on La Covatilla, while Carthy remains 55 seconds clear of Martin, the Irish rider also finished safely in that front group, 23rd on the day.

Sam Bennett also came through the day without any worries, finishing in the group 15:21 behind, and assuming he can last Saturday's penultimate stage, can then set his sights on winning the flat-out final run into Madrid on Sunday, after taking second in that final sprint a year ago. Deceuninck-Quick Step are still waiting on that 100th Grand Tour stage win.

Roglic’s team support has been flawless, likewise for Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and Carthy (EF Pro Cycling), and it may prove decisive on the run to La Covatilla, which comes at the end of the 178.2km stage from Sequero, and which features five intermediate climbs in all, including the last 11.4km to La Covatilla, which sits at an altitude of 1,962m and is located 220km west of Madrid, almost in sight of Sunday’s finish proper.

For Martin the memory of winning here before may be distant, but an advantage no less. “Dan certainly believes it’s possible,” say his team management at Israel Start-Up Nation. “Nothing to lose by daring.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics