Five years ago Dan Martin notched up Ireland's first Tour de France stage win in 21 years, and became only the fifth Irishman to achieve that feat. On Thursday he grabbed his second in even more dramatic style, dropping the world's best riders at the summit finish of the Mur de Bretangne.
The UAE Team Emirates rider threw down the gauntlet 800 metres into the two kilometre finishing climb. In accelerating 1.2 kilometres from the summit, he was making a bold declaration.
Here I go; follow if you can.
He blasted clear of the peloton, leaving past Tour winners such as Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) behind, as well as current and former world champions. Closer to the line Frenchman Pierre Latour set off in pursuit and while he inched closer, Martin surged again. He finished one second ahead, right arm aloft, while Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) brought home the chasers some three seconds back.
“I hope my wife hasn’t just gone into labour,” Martin joked, speaking well ahead of their due date in October. “It is a great feeling to actually get a win again. I’d so many second places since I last won at the Tour. I was a bit nervous because of the headwind. Then the race went so hard on the first part of the climb..I saw everybody was on the limit and there were no teammates left. Why not have a try? So I did.”
Following Martin’s stage win in 2013, the expectation was that he would clock up more. However he had a frustrating sequence since then. He missed the Tour in 2014 and when he returned the following year, he had to make do with stage placings of second, second and fourth. In 2016 he was runner-up at Bagnères-de-Luchon and was also fourth and fifth on stages en route to ninth overall.
Last year, he was second at La Planche des Belles Filles, third at Longwy and sixth, sixth, eighth and eighth en route to a final finishing position of sixth overall. The latter was achieved despite fracturing bones in his spine; this year, he knows that if he can steer clear of trouble, a place on the final podium is achievable.
The last time the race finished at the Mur de Bretagne was 2015. On that occasion Martin was also riding very strongly, but Frenchman Alexis Vuillermoz attacked first and the Irishman had to settle for second. This time around, he was determined to make the first move.
He went a long way before the finish line, but had the strength to hold on despite that headwind. “The legs were just there all the time. Maybe it was adrenaline,” he said. “I felt really, really good yesterday, but didn’t quite get an opening in the final to be able to have a go. That was a good sign for today.
“I was really relaxed all day. Not confident, but just looking forward to having a crack. Looking forward to racing on the last climb. Luckily it worked out.”
In terms of the overall standings, Martin's UAE Emirates squad was one of the slowest in the stage three team time trial. It conceded one minute 39 seconds to the BMC Racing Team, which put the Belgian rider Greg Van Avermaet into yellow and left Martin back in 39th overall.
Van Avermaet finished with the chasers on Thursday and retains yellow; Martin is gradually getting closer, and moves from 24th to 21st. He is now one minute 27 seconds behind Van Avermaet and while the latter could pad his lead on the cobblestoned ninth stage, Martin should be one of the strongest in the subsequent mountain stages.
“It is positive that I am clawing a few seconds back, but more important is the victory,” he said. “It makes this Tour de France a success for us already. Anything else is a bonus now.”
But don’t take that attitude as complacency: he’s very much set on finishing as high up in Paris as is possible. Martin just wants to savour the win at this point in time.
Stage six result
1 Dan Martin (UAE-Emirates) 4hr 13min 43sec
2 Pierre Latour (AG2R La Mondiale) at 1sec
3 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) at 3sec
4 Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step) same time
5 Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) st
6 Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) st
7 Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) st
8 Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) st
9 Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) st
10 Primoz Roglic (Lotto NL-Jumbo) st
1 Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing) 22hr 35min 46sec
2 Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) at 3 sec
3 Tejay van Garderen (BMC) at 5 sec
4 Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step) at 6sec
5 Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step) at 12sec
6 Bob Jungels (Quick-Step) at 18sec
7 Rigoberto Uran (EF-Drapac Cannondale) at 45sec
8 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) at 51sec
9 Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) at 52sec
10 Jakob Fuglslang (Astana) at 53sec
*21 Dan Martin (UAE-Emirates) at 1min 27sec