Dan Martin is on course for his highest overall finish in six attempts at the Tour de France as he’s currently sixth on General Classification, three places higher than he ended up last year.
The QuickStep Floors rider, who is out of contract at the end of the season, has had a brilliant three weeks and with today’s time-trial the only chance for him to move up ahead of tomorrow’s ceremonial ride into Paris, he’ll be keen to end on a high.
He won’t threaten the podium as he’s 2’56 off race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky), Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) is at 23 seconds while third-place Rigobert Uran (Cannondale) is just six seconds further behind the Kenyan-born British rider who is aiming for his third Tour in-a-row.
In that respect, the best Martin can realistically hope for is shifting former yellow jersey wearer Fabio Aru (Astana) out of fifth, though he’ll need to go one minute faster on today’s 22.5-kilometre test against the clock around the streets of Marseille.
The course for today’s blast features a sharp climb after the midway point of the race and if it suits a diminutive, punchy climber like Martin, it certainly suits Aru’s explosive characteristics as well.
Martin’s race has been laced with what ifs and maybes, like where he might be if he hadn’t crashed on stage nine and lost over a minute, or had Team Sky not opted to chase him on selected stages.
Missing a key split in the crosswind this week was also another time where luck was certainly not on his side — though sixth, where he’s likely to remain, represents a real breakthrough in his career.
He was never going to figure in yesterday’s 19th stage from Embrun to Salon de Provence, which was won by Norway’s Edvald Boasson Hagen.
Boasson Hagen, who was beaten in a photo finish by Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step) on stage 7, was part of a 20-man breakaway but made a winning solo break inside the final three kilometres as Nikias Arndt (Sunweb) came second and Jens Keukeleire (Orica-Scott) third.
“I could have waited, but I saw I also was feeling quite good,” Boasson Hagen said.
“I could manage to do one attack and try everything for that. I didn’t have to have another photo finish so I’m really happy about that.”
Inside the final 20 kilometres, an attack from Belgian Keukeleire, who was voted the most combative rider of the day, split the lead group. Nine riders went off the front, vying for victory.
Boasson Hagen made the decisive attack right after a roundabout. He followed Arndt on the right side, while the rest of the group went on the left. They got a slight gap with the faster line, and Arndt accelerated. Boasson Hagen jumped off the German’s wheel and soon had a gap through the technical final kilometres.
After finishing on this Tour’s podium four times, Boasson Hagen finally took the top step on the Tour’s longest stage at 222.5 kilometres.
Froome and his Sky team were content to let the large break ride away. He finished safely in the pack, saving his legs for today’s challenge.
“It’s definitely a fast course, very fast, small climb out the back of Marseille,” said Froome of what’s in store this afternoon.
“Yeah, I think it suits me well, not hugely technical. It’s quite a power time trial. I certainly think someone like [Primoz] Roglic, Tony Martin could be fighting for a stage win.
“Certainly at this point it’s my race to lose. I’ve just to go do everything right … Just hopefully not have a bad day.”
Bardet trails Froome by 23 seconds, which will surely be too much to overcome given past performances.
The Frenchman’s real race could be to hold off Colombian Urán, who sits right on his tail.
“Nothing is done, there is still the time trial, but I like the time trials at the end of the Tour,” Bardet said. “I feel motivated.” Uran may well spring a surprise and he has beaten Froome five times over the course of his career.
His own highlights against the clock include a TT stage win at the 2014 Giro and a 36.7km time trial at the 2014 Vuelta a España where he finished only 15 seconds behind world champion Tony Martin, 77 seconds ahead of Froome.
“Rigo is definitely my biggest threat,” Froome said.
“From the GC riders, he’s the next-strongest time triallist and he’s only 29 seconds down. I imagine he’ll be the guy to look out for.”
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