Dan Martin made a brave but ultimately futile bid for a second ever Tour de France stage win yesterday, the Irishman finishing runner-up to Rafal Majka (Tinkoff Saxo) on a gruelling day in the Pyrenees.
The Garmin Cannondale missed the day’s main breakaway that escaped after 85kms of the 188-kilometre stage from Pau to Cauterets but scorched across a four-minute gap to the leading riders and by the halfway point he made the catch.
It was a stunning effort from the former Liége-Bastogne-Liége and Tour of Lombardy winner as he crested the Col d’Aspin at the head of affairs and looked very good for the win, even with 90 kilometres to go.
After losing over 11 minutes the day before, Martin was given plenty rope from the Team Sky-led peloton who no longer saw him – or anyone in the break, as a threat to the overall standings.
With 80 or so kilometres left, things looked very good for the break as they had around seven minutes on the bunch, still being controlled by race leader Chris Froome’s Team Sky squad.
Incidentally, it was a day after Froome and his teammate Richie Porte notched a 1-2 in the 2013 Tour that Martin won his one and only Tour stage, so the omens looked good for him.
The break pressed on towards the famed climb of the Col du Tourmalet where the Irishman was fourth over the top.
Here, Majka showed how strong he was and intent in going for the Polka Dot jersey for leader of the King of the Mountains classification that he pressed on alone, taking maximum points (and a cheque for €5,000).
He hurtled down the descent and wasn’t seen again before the finish.
In fact, the Pole pulled out a gap of around two minutes on the remainder of the break, out of whom Martin emerged the strongest.
Though he made a late lunge to get back on terms to Majka, Martin crossed the line a minute down but was rewarded with the most aggressive rider award while also leaping up the standings in the King of the Mountains classification.
There, he lies sixth overall on 27 points, 30 behind leader Froome.
Fellow Irishmen Nicolas Roche was 54th over the line yesterday, crossing the summit in a group 15:54 back while Sam Bennett was 158th at 32:34, his team doing another good job to get him inside the time limit.
There wasn’t any movement at the top end of GC but the nightmare continues for Astana’s defending champion, Vincenzo Nibali.
The Italian dropped out of the top 10 overall, replaced by Bauke Mollema (Trek) who gained 10 seconds on the favourites with a late dig.
Today’s stage is another brute with four categorised climbs in the Pyrenees, including the finish up Plateau de Beille.
Meanwhile, Nathan Pernot riding for the Nicolas Roche Performance Team/Magnet.ie won last night’s second stage of the Scott Bicycles Junior Tour of Ireland.
The Frenchman was too quick for Owen Line (Pro Vision Cycling Clothing) and Corkman Dion McCarthy (Munster Development Team) at the end of the 109-kilometre stage that started and finished in Ennis.
Rising American star Gage Hecht (Hot Tubes 1) still leads the race overall courtesy of his opening stage prologue win on Tuesday night but Simon Tuomey of the Irish National team is hot on his wheels, 13 seconds back.
Only 30 seconds separate the top 10 but that should all change today as the riders tackle a testing 97-kilometre leg from Mountshannon to Whitegate.
It’s a very hilly day with two categorised ascents; one outside Scarriff after eight kilometres and another at Maghera after 43km.
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