Dan Martin went close to taking victory on stage six of the Vuelta a España on Thursday, with the Irishman finishing second, five seconds behind the solo winner Esteban Chaves of Colombia.
Chaves previously won stage two of the race and was determined to try to reclaim the race lead after losing it to the Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) on Wednesday.
The Orica-GreenEdge climber surged on a steep uphill section located 2.3 kilometres from the finish line at the Alto de Cazorla, overhauling the lone leader Steve Cummings (MTN-Qhubeka). Dumoulin then gave chase but was unable to bridge; Martin jumped across to him but ran out of time to catch Chaves.
He outsprinted Dumoulin for second place and rued what might have been.
“In the end, I was a bit too far back at the start of the climb,” he told the Irish Times. “My team had done a great ride before then to get me into position, but I got swamped coming into the bottom of the climb when other riders all got past.
“I rode into the climb on the steep section and then just launched one at the end. Chaves did an incredible job, though, he is flying. There was just one guy stronger than me today and I’ve got to accept that.”
Martin was, however, closing in on Chaves, prompting the question if he could have started his pursuit sooner.
“I could have gone a bit earlier, but I thought other teams would have chased Chaves down,” he admitted. “I think everyone was fried with the heat. There was cat and mouse being playing amongst the overall contenders and so the chase didn’t happen.”
The five second gap between Chaves and the Martin/Dumoulin chase plus the win bonus put the stage victor ten seconds ahead of Dumoulin in the overall standings.
Martin moved from fourth to third, displacing his first cousin Nicolas Roche (Sky). They are now 33 and 36 seconds back respectively.
The Vuelta a España continues Friday with the first big mountain stage. The 191.1 kilometre race starts in Jodar, takes in the third category climb of the Puerto de Blancares and then concludes with the category one climb of the Alto de Capileira.
The latter should suit Martin well, but he is not optimistic about taking over the race lead at this point.
“I think it is going to be really difficult to get past Chaves,” he said. “He is riding really well at the moment. He is pretty good on the long climbs too.
“I’m trying not to focus too much on the general classification at this point. We are just going to take it day by day for now and see how things go.”
As for Roche, he may be called on to ride for Tour de France winner Chris Froome on Friday. The Irishman is 19 seconds ahead of his Sky team-mate, but the Briton has a much better track record on longer climbs and will try to advance in the overall standings.