Dan Martin second on stage five of the Tour de France
Irish rider moves up to fourth in overall standings after another podium finish
Astana rider Fabio Aru of Italy on his way to winning the fifth stage. Photograph: Christian Hartmann/Inpho
Dan Martin had a superb performance on stage five of the Tour de France on Wednesday, racing to second at the summit of the race’s biggest climb thus far and also distancing all bar one of the overall contenders.
The 30 year old Irishman finished 16 seconds behind the Italian Fabio Aru (Astana team), who surprised the other riders with an attack on the ascent to the summit at La Planche des Belles Filles. Martin expected Chris Froome’s Team Sky to chase, but the British squad didn’t respond quickly enough.
Aru gained sufficient time to take the stage, but Martin was the strongest of those behind. He crossed the line 16 seconds behind the Italian, and dropping defending Tour champion Froome and the highly-tipped Australian Richie Porte (BMC Racing Team).
They finished four seconds behind, while double Tour winner Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) conceded ten seconds and twice runner-up Nairo Quintana (Movistar) lost 18.
“It was a tough day out there,” said Martin afterwards. “I felt the heat on the final climb and at times you had the impression you were glued to the road. Fabio was strong, so congrats to him, but despite coming second, I am satisfied. I’m very confident, as I really enjoy racing here and don’t feel any pressure whatsoever.
“The team is on a roll, we are the best squad in the world, which you can see by taking a look over the victories and list of results since the start of the season.”
Martin’s first cousin Nicolas Roche rode for team leader Porte but was still 13th, one minute and five seconds back. Martin is now up to fourth overall, 25 seconds back, while Roche is 21st, two minutes 14 down.
“Of course, it’s still early and a lot can happen in the Tour, but so far I’m happy with how things went,” Martin said. : “It was a cat and mouse game when Fabio went. We kind of looked at each other. He was super strong so congratulations to him. I knew I just had to wait for a sprint and if Fabio was close enough I’ll be able to catch him but in the end it didn’t work out.”
Defending champion Froome took ownership of the yellow jersey for the first time in this year’s race after his Sky team-mate Geraint Thomas was dropped on the final climb.
Froome now leads the general classification by 12 seconds from Thomas, with Aru (+14) in third and Martin (+25) in fourth. Richie Porte, widely considered to be Froome’s main rival in this year’s Tour, is fifth, 39 seconds down on the English rider.
Froome said: “I remember the first time I was in yellow in 2013. It was a bit of an overwhelming experience to be honest, but I think I’ve spent enough days in yellow now to get used to that.
“I know what I’m up against. This is going to be the hardest-fought battle in terms of the general classification and I know my rivals are right up there.”
The 160.5 km stage from Vittel was billed as the one which would bring true shape to the fight for yellow as the first of only three summit finishes in this Tour, and it delivered.
This is only the third time the Tour has visited La Planche des Belles Filles – scene of Froome’s first career Tour stage win in 2012.
But it is worth noting that on both previous occasions the man wearing yellow at the end of the day – Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and Vincenzo Nibali in 2014 – was wearing it in Paris at the end of the race.
Romain Bardet, France’s great hope for a home win, was fifth on the day, just ahead of Britain’s Simon Yates and former Team Sky man Rigoberto Uran and two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador.
But Nairo Quintana could only manage ninth place, 34 seconds behind Aru, as his hopes of contending suffered another blow. Quintana is already in trouble, some 54 seconds behind Froome after five stages.
With Aru now only 14 seconds off yellow, the Italian will have seized leadership of the Astana team as Jakob Fuglsang, billed as a co-captain, faded badly on the imposing gradients late on this relatively short but extremely sharp climb.
Nobody responded when Aru launched his move just before the gradients – which average 8.5 per cent over the course of the 5.9km climb – began to ease off slightly, and the Italian was quickly out of reach.
“I made a little bit of a mistake at the final by giving Aru that much space to go,” Froome said. “But with it being flat on the final kick, no one wanted to be left pulling on that final point.”
The others put in little digs at one another but it was not until the final few hundred metres, where the road ramped up to 20 per cent , that Martin burst clear and Froome rounded Porte to claim the last of the bonus seconds on offer.