Dan Martin proved he has the legs to defend his Liège-Bastogne-Liège title this coming Sunday when he finished a superb second in today's Flèche Wallonne Classic in Belgium.
The Garmin Sharp rider clocked up his first result of note this season, sprinting up the wall-like Mur de Huy at the end of the race and improving on his previous placings of sixth in 2012 and fourth last year.
Martin had appeared to be out of position at the foot of the climb, sitting just inside the top 10 as the slopes tilted upwards. Valverde was second at that point, and Martin had to use energy in making up the lost ground. He was also forced to stop pedalling at least once when riders in front of him stalled.
He dug in towards the top of the climb, moving past the riders in front of him and striking out for home, but a fresher Valverde had more in reserve and was able to get past him before the line.
However, Martin took satisfaction from the performance, and recognised that it sets him up for a possible repeat victory on Sunday.
“With 100 metres left I thought I had won, but Alejandro was stronger than me today,” he said afterwards. “I was slightly badly positioned at the foot of the hill, but I was able to move back up. For me it’s the first good result of the year and that is important for this weekend and for the Giro.”
After Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Martin will finalise his preparation for the Giro d’Italia. The Italian three week race begins in Belfast on May 9th and will feature three stages in northern and southern Ireland.
He will aim for a stage win and, if possible, to challenge for the overall victory.
La Flèche Wallonne, Belgium (WorldTour):
Charleroi to Huy
1: Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Movistar Team) 194 kilometres in 4 hours 36 mins 45 secs
2 D Martin (Garmin Sharp) at 3 secs
3 M Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team) at 4 secs
4 B Mollema (Belkin Pro Cycling Team)
5 T Jelte Slagter (Garmin Sharp) at 6 secs
6 J Vanendert (Lotto Belisol) same time