Dan Martin has got his Tour de France campaign off to the best possible start with a Stage 6 victory on the first hilly test of the race to Mur de Bretagne ahead of Pierre Latour (Ag2r) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
Martin kicked out with just over a kilometre to go and though it originally looked as if the Team UAE climber had gone too early, he found a second wind and bravely held off the field by a handful of seconds as he punched the air with delight.
He adds this victory to his first Tour stage win in 2013 and admitted it was somewhat of a relief to raise his arms aloft again at the biggest race in cycling.
“The legs were just there — I don’t know what happened. Maybe it was just the adrenaline. I felt really good yesterday and didn’t quite get up there in the final to have a go. It was a good sign for today, I was really relaxed all day — not confident but just looking forward to having a crack and racing hard on the last climb.”
Despite hitting out early at 1.2km to the line, Martin was convinced it was the right time to go.
“I was a bit nervous because of the headwind, so I didn’t think it was going to happen. The race went so hard on the first part of the climb - I saw everyone was on the limit, and there were no teammates left, so I thought why not have a try.”
Having tasted success on this finish before, where he was runner-up to Alexis Vuillermoz in 2015, the 31-year-old had unfinished business on the steep finishing climb of the Mur de Bretagne.
Although he carries the expectation of at least a top-10 finish overall, Martin is not putting pressure on himself or his team for the remainder of the race.
“This win makes the Tour de France a success for the team already and anything else will be a bonus now.
“I just hope my wife hasn’t gone into labour after watching it,” joked Martin moments after crossing the finish of the 181km battle through the countryside of Brittany.
Martin’s wife, Jess Martin, is a former long-distance runner who competed for Great Britain at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The couple are expecting twins in October.
The big losers of the day among the race favourites were Romain Bardet (Ag2r) and Dutchman Tom Domoulin (Sunweb) who both suffered mechanical issues less than 5km from the finish.
Belgian Greg Van Avermaet holds onto the maillot jaune with Martin moving up three places to 21st at 1.27. The race leader was not surprised by Martin’s win.
“I was expecting this kind of move from Dan and we have seen in the past how strong he can be.
“He’s pretty good at finding the right moment, and of course being super strong — if you could hold this on the final stretch it’s an impressive effort. He really deserved the win.”
Stage 7 from Fougères to Chartres will see the riders tackle a lengthy 231km in what will be the longest stage of this years race.