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Given what happened to him earlier in the stage, Dan Martin’s performance on Sunday’s 15th leg of the Vuelta a España was a very commendable performance. The Garmin-Sharp rider had an unexpected crash on the ascent of the day’s first climb, the Puerto del Torno, when a rider moved across him and took out his front wheel.
He was knocked sideways and tumbled over a guardrail and down a ravine. According to Martin, he fell [presumably sliding] five metres and came to rest in a thorn bush. It took him some time to climb back out due to the steepness of the slope and because he had little to cling to.
“I was pretty shaken up by it all,” he told CyclingTips afterwards. “I even tried to get on my team-mate Johan Van Summeren’s bike, and he is much, much taller than me…I was just totally out of it, not thinking.”
Martin ended up one minute and 40 seconds behind the group of general classification riders but was helped back by his team. He was able to rejoin before the final climb and while he was affected by the fall, the injury to his shin which would later require several stitches plus the fatigue of the long chase, he managed to finish seventh. He also moved up three places to seventh overall.
Martin said that part of his damage limitation was achieved due to the very steady tempo that Chris Froome set on the climb. The Sky rider was put into difficulty by Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and paced himself to the summit.
The other three rode the climb in a very different way, firing off very sharp accelerations and then stalling due to a lack of cooperation.
Froome’s pacing saw him reach the line just twelve seconds behind Valverde and Rodriguez, and seven behind Contador. Martin was one place further behind in seventh, conceding a further 11 seconds.
“I watched the race in 2012 and it was exactly the same pattern,” he said of the Spanish surges. “I kind of knew it was going to be like that. I also know that those guys can’t keep up those accelerations the whole way to the top.
“I saw what Froome did yesterday [Saturday – ed.]. I know that he rides within himself and really gets the job done. I thought if I stick with him, he is a good guy to follow, he does a consistent pace. I knew if I could hold his pace I would be somewhere near the front at the top. I just lost him in the last couple of hundred meters of the climb, with two kilometres to go.
“But it worked out well. Obviously the objective was to try to get time on the rest of the GC guys who were ahead of me before today, and it went to plan. It is actually easier to ride with Chris than to do those crazy accelerations. On the other hand, I followed the first couple of accelerations and I can do it, so that is also encouraging.”
Martin said that his legs felt very good earlier on the stage, something which stood to him when chasing back on after his crash. He suggests that if he hadn’t fallen he might have been in the running for the stage; the aim on Monday’s stage is to use as little energy as possible, then see what he has left on the final climb.
“It is supposed to be raining all day and a really hard stage as well. It is a case of staying out of trouble, trying to stay upright, letting the legs do the talking. And hopefully getting to the last climb with the front group and just getting up as fast as I can and see where I am at the top.
“I know the final 50 kilometres because we did it in 2011. That is definitely an advantage, to know what is coming. Especially to know the last climb as well – it is a long one, but it is really steady at the start. It is only really in the last five kilometres that it gets really difficult.”
Martin’s trajectory has been an upwards one from the first day, when he was left back in 121st overall after Garmin-Sharp lost 41 seconds in the team time trial.
He said that his progress has been very encouraging for him, although he accepts that seventh might be his natural place in the event.
“I think I haven’t actually moved down a place so far in this race. I have just gone up and up and up,” he said. “Since the first TTT we were pretty far down and every day since we have moved up. It is great to continue that onward progress.
“I am not sure I will be able to go any higher, this might be the best I can hope for unless one of the guys in front really has a bad day. But we’ll see.
“If I am in seventh place heading into the rest day I will be very happy indeed.”