Ireland’s Dan Martin moved up to third overall at the Vuelta A Espana yesterday after finishing in second place on another punishing day in the saddle.
The Garmin Cannondale man displaced his cousin Nicolas Roche in the General Classification — Roche dropped to fourth following a similarly gutsy performance.
Martin, riding his last Grand Tour before departing the team, looked absolutely immense when he shot out of a rapidly-diminishing front group on the run-in to the finish at Sierra de Cazorla.
He went in pursuit of eventual stage winner Esteban Chaves (Orica GreenEDGE) who jumped clear inside three kilometres to go in a bid to take the race lead back off overnight leader Tom Dumoulin (Giant Alpecin).
The diminutive Colombian screamed up the brutal ascent to the finish, one where the gradient maxed out at 15.5% and reached a lung-bursting height of 930 metres.
Dumoulin was first to leave the peloton in pursuit of Chaves and made a brave effort to bridge across while after him went Martin, with a Cofidis and a Katusha rider clung to his wheel.
Martin shook them off quite early, though, and hunted down the Dutchman who was himself making inroads on Chaves out front.
Alas, Dumoulin ran out of road as Martin made the catch and just before the line the Irishman managed to nick second, crossing the line just five seconds behind Chaves.
“It was a finish that suited me and from the start I felt good,” said Martin.
“I just keep feeling better and better. At the moment I feel excellent, really good, but then again a three kilometre uphill finish like what we had today is very different to a 16-kilometre uphill finish like the one we tackle tomorrow (Friday) on the Alpujarras,” he added.
After he crossed the line, the remainder of the bunch came in six seconds later, with Ruben Plaza of Lampre-Merida at the head of it, while Nicolas Roche was six places back in 10th, but in the same time.
Martin and Roche are now third and fourth overall at 33 and 36 seconds, respectively.
Chaves continues his remarkable week by reclaiming the race leader’s red jersey he won on stage two. He is now 10 seconds ahead of Dumoulin going into today’s seventh stage.
It’s another day for the climbers and Dumoulin will be expected to concede further time, which could open the door for Martin and Roche to both move inside the top three.
The 191-kilometre stage from Jodar to the summit finish at La Apajurra features a category three climb around the halfway point which shouldn’t trouble the majority of the bunch but the same cannot be said for the finish.
The final 20 kilometres is a category one monster and features 20 kilometres of climbing, with just a brief respite around the 10k to go mark.
The final two kilometres sees the mountain reach its steepest with a section of 14% gradient that will be the perfect launchpad for a stage-winning attack.
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