Tour de force from magical Martin

Dan Martin ended Ireland’s 21-year wait for a stage win at the Tour de France yesterday when he blasted to a stunning win in Bagnères-de-Bigorre following the most gruelling day of this year’s race so far.

The Garmin-SHARP professional outsprinted Astana leader Jakob Fuglsang after both men managed to avoid being caught by the chasing group of favourites on a long downhill run to the finish line.

The move was sparked when Martin danced away from the overall favourites on the day’s final climb, taking the Dane for company. Both men worked well together on the 30-kilometre descent into Bagnères-de-Bigorre, but Martin had the quickest gallop and the Irishman crossed the line first to take a famous victory.

“Every win is important and special in its own way,” the 26-year-old said. “It was such an incredible day today because this team Garmin-Sharp shows such a team spirit.

“Everyone gave 100% today and some of the guys nearly missed the time limit because they gave so much for my victory. We decided this morning on the bus that I was going to try and win the stage and we’ve succeeded, so it’s incredible.”

Martin and Fuglsang made their move as the main contenders at the front of the race were engaged in an absorbing game of cat and mouse, with Chris Froome anxiously — and successfully — defending his yellow jersey against the likes of Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador, with his Team Sky team-mates nowhere to be found.

Although Fuglsang led the pair into town and towards the finish line, Martin was close behind and, after some nervous glances between the pair, he kicked out 250 metres from the line and Fuglsang could not answer.

“It’s hard to describe how it feels; it’s more relief actually because I knew I was the favourite coming into the sprint and I was quite confident, but I still had to do it,” Martin added.

“To come across the line knowing I’ve won a stage of the Tour de France is amazing. In the end, the scale of the event wasn’t on my mind — it was just another bike race.

“I was so focused on his wheel and beating that guy in the sprint that I didn’t even look behind once to see where the peloton was. It was just a case of focus on the finish line and get there first.”

While this was Martin’s first taste of Tour success, it was not his first in a Grand Tour as he won stage nine of the Vuelta a Espana in 2011, and he called on that experience today.

“I think there was a calmness that I developed in the sprint, rather than confidence,” he said. “I’ve always had that sort of calmness, when I won the ninth stage of the Vuelta, it was much the same sort of feeling. In the big situations I seem to be able to relax very well and just be in control and it pays off.”

Martin is now eighth overall and 10th in the climbers’ classification.

Today’s headlines will doubtless make copious reference to his uncle, Stephen Roche, but in truth, Martin should be applauded on his own merits. A consistent performer on the international stage right back to his amateur days at VC La Pomme, the 26-year-old has come into his own this year as the winner of the Volta a Catalunya and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Meanwhile, in the race for the yellow jersey, Chris Froome successfully repelled a concerted Movistar offensive, and he did so in isolation as Richie Porte slid dramatically out of the overall picture by conceding over 18 minutes.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is second at 1:25 with Bauke Mollema next at 1:44.

“This was one of the hardest days I have ever had on the bike,” an exhausted Froome said after.

“I am really happy I have come through today. I was completely on my own, I had (sporting director) Nicolas Portal in the car telling me not to worry.”

Froome kept his cool on the final climb as Movistar’s Quintana teased him time and again, the Colombian trying to force the pace and help his team-mate Valverde, who replaced Porte in second place overall, one minute 25 seconds back.

Nicolas Roche did a trojan effort in keeping teammate Alberto Contador in contention but he ceded significant time and is now 44th overall at 30:10 secs.

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