In winning what is regarded one of the most difficult early season stage races on the calendar, the Garmin-SHARP rider not only became just the second Irish rider to do so, but proved his stage-racing potential, which will now most likely see him lead his team at this year’s Tour de France in July.
Not since Sean Kelly in 1984 and 1986 has an Irish rider pulled on the leader’s jersey and Martin admitted he’s still trying to grasp the enormity of what he’s done.
“It an absolutely amazing feeling to be standing where I am now. This was my home race, I’ve been second twice here in the past but to actually win it, against some of the world’s biggest riders, is something truly special,” said a delighted Martin last night.
“The guys in second and third [Joaquim Rodriguez and Nairo Quintana] and even Bradley [Wiggins] in fourth had some pretty big support here in Barcelona today, especially Joaquim, but I did what I needed to and I just can’t believe it.”
Martin, 26, is no stranger to success and his palmares to date includes the overall at the Tour of Poland in 2010, a stage win at the Vuelta A Espana a year later while he was also National road race champion all of five years ago, but this win will not only catapult him up the world rankings, but will also mark him down as one to watch at next month’s Ardennes Classics in Belgium.
“This is definitely the biggest win of my career,” he said. “Sure, those [above races] were big in their own right but this had the world’s elite in it, the Wiggins’s, the Rodriguez’s, the Scarponi’s, class riders who have done pretty much all there is to do. So to beat them, in a race that means so much to me is just... incredible. It’s going to take a while to settle in.”
Martin laid the foundations for victory with a stunning lone escape on Thursday to Port Ainé-Rialp where he went from ninth on the General Classification to race leader in the space of 217 extraordinary kilometres. For over 180 kilometres of those, the Irishman rode in a 25-man breakaway and when those with him in that escape fell back one after another, he was the last one left standing.
And though he had a 10 second overall lead on Rodriguez after that stage, he still had it all to do. And he was quick to thank his teammates for their efforts in reeling in the best the Spaniard had to offer since Thursday.
“I can’t speak highly enough about my team and the background guys at Garmin-SHARP. They were awesome. Every one of them. People said on Friday before the stage that it was mine to lose but anything can happen in bike racing. Ten seconds was nothing and especially against someone who just happens to be the world’s best rider [Rodriguez].”
Yesterday, as the race headed to Barcelona for eight climbs of the Alt de Montjuic climb Martin knew he had to be vigilant to anything Rodriguez offered and he was, jumping on his wheel after he attacked with four kilometres to go and staying there, with his team-mate Ryder Hesjedal also staying closeby.
Martin’s winning margin overall was 17 seconds, and little wonder he had only one plan on how to celebrate the win last night.
“I’ll be heading to the Irish bar here in Girona and having a Guinness because I didn’t get a chance last weekend for Paddy’s Day.”