Magical Martin ‘in shock’

Dan Martin ended Ireland’s 21-year wait for a classic win when he claimed the Liege-Bastogne-Liege crown in Belgium yesterday.

Magical Martin ‘in shock’

The Garmin-Sharp rider was easily the strongest in the closing stages of the 261km race, outsmarting Spaniards Joaquim Rodriguez and twice winner Alejandro Valverde in the final kilometre to take the oldest — and arguably most prestigious — of the sport’s ‘big five’.

The win was the first classic success for Ireland since Sean Kelly won Milan-San Remo in 1992.

“I can’t believe it, I’m really in shock,” said Martin. “I’ve never seen the team ride so strong — they kept me protected all day. It felt like one of the easiest races I’ve ever done. It really is incredible, I’m so happy.

“I’ve come up a level this year, it’s a golden year for me, and I was ready to try and go for it today.

“At the same time, this year Garmin-Sharp have got a lot of confidence in me now, there’s been a great atmosphere in the team, the guys have been telling me all week that I’ve got a good chance of winning today and that extra belief I have from them helps give me an extra edge.”

While Martin, who recently won the Volta A Catalunya, will take much of the plaudits, team-mate Ryder Hesjedal deserves a sizeable amount of the credit as it was his attacks in the final half-hour of racing that splintered the peloton and set up the Irishman for the win.

The Canadian powerhouse attacked on the penultimate climb, ripped the peloton apart and forced a frantic chase — with Martin and 11 others managing to escape.

Hesjedal was caught inside the final 5km, but the move succeeded in shedding many of the pre-race favourites. He then drilled a furious pace to widen the gap back to the peloton, clearly forgoing his own chances to try and set up Martin for the win. Martin took a flier off the front of the 12-man front group with around 4km remaining, but was quickly closed down, only for Hesjedal to again drive the pace on — preventing any counter attacks.

Rodriguez (Katusha) was next to try his luck from the group. He attacked inside the final kilometre, managed to get a gap and it looked like he would pull it off.

Martin had other ideas and jumped away from those around him, rode across to the wheel of Rodriguez and kicked past him in the final 500m, leaving the Spaniard with no riposte.

Martin didn’t look back once he put the foot down and quickly opened a gap as the finish line came into view.

His sudden burst allowed him time to savour the win and become only the second Irishman to win the race, with Kelly taking victory in 1984 and 1989.

Meanwhile, Timmy Barry took his second win of the season by winning the Visit Nenagh Classic in a one-two with team-mate Damian Shaw yesterday.

The Aquablue duo jumped away in the closing stages of the 154km race with Barry, the reigning champion, once again proving his undoubted class ahead of the recently crowned winner of Rás Mumhan.

Páidi Ó Brien (Planet-Tri) was third while Eddie Dunbar (O’Leary’s Stone Kanturk), winner of the Aquablue Classic in Minane Bridge, won the A3 race.

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