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Attacking from the back of the select lead group, catching the other riders off guard and then using his speed to hold them off, Dan Martin turned around what had been a very frustrating season when he grabbed victory in Il Lombardia on Sunday.
The Garmin-Sharp rider was one of nine riders who pushed ahead of a reduced-size peloton on the final climb of Bergamo Alta, sitting at the back and biding his time while others such as Philippe Gilbert and his BMC Racing team-mate tried to slip clear over the summit and down the descent.
He then made his move with 600 metres to go, attacking on the right hand side of the road right at the point that the group lulled.
Martin’s canny move, which resembled his uncle Stephen Roche’s attack to win the 1987 world championships, saw riders such as Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) look to others to take up the chase, giving him all the time he needed to solo in for victory.
“It’s one of my favourite races. It’s just incredible to win it,” Martin told Eurosport, referring to an event he was second in three years ago and fourth in 2013.
The success sees him emulate the victories of fellow Irishman Sean Kelly, who triumphed in 1983, 1985 and 1991.
Although he has a very rapid sprint from a small group, he said that the presence of Valverde, Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team) and Michael Albasini (Orica GreenEdge) meant that he didn’t want to risk waiting until the final 200 metres.
“I needed to try something, and the opportunity happened,” he explained. “Once I got the gap, it was so close to the line I just had to go as hard as I could and not crash on the last corner.”
The significance of the latter point is that Martin has been blighted by falls in the past 14 months. He crashed out of the 2013 Vuelta a España, suffering concussion, and also fell in the subsequent world championships.
He also fell while in a position to repeat his 2013 victory in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, crashed out on day one of the Giro d’Italia and fell again in last week’s world road race championships.
“Anybody know where I can get some luck?” he said last week on Twitter, showing his frustration. “Will draw the line at virgin sacrifice.”
As it turned out, he didn’t have to wait too long for his luck to finally change.
The 254 kilometre race started in Como, finished in Bergamo and followed a modified course this year. Early on ten riders attacked and built a lead of over eight minutes; they were Paul Voss (NetApp-Endura), Angelo Pagani (Bardiani-CSF), Mathias Brändle (IAM Cycling), Sergio Paulinho (Tinkoff-Saxo), Andrea Fedi (Neri Sottoli – Yellow Fluo), Tiziano Dall’Antonio (Androni Giocattoli), Jeremy Roy (FDJ), Francesco Gavazzi (Astana), Jan Polanc (Lampre-Merida) and Miguel Angel Rubiano Chavez (Colombia).
This group was whittled down to Chavez, Polanc, Fedi and Paulinho on the Passo di Garda, then Paulinho pushed ahead alone on the climb of the Bracca and was then joined by Fedi on the descent.
They were later joined by Polanc, Ben Hermans (BMC Racing Team), Pieter Weening (Orica GreenEdge) and Mickaël Chérel (Ag2r La Mondiale), with Weening and Hermans then pushing ahead on the climb of the Berbenno.
The duo led into the final ten kilometres, at which point world champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma Quick Step) cracked and sat up from the chasing group, his chances over due to bad cramp.
Martin’s team-mate Ryder Hesjedal was working hard and his chase plus the efforts of others saw the leaders hauled back on the final climb of the Bergamo Alta.
Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol) then put in a strong attack just before the cobblestone section and got a small gap, but Fabio Aru (Astana) led the chase and the Belgian was hauled back.
With 3.3 kilometres to go Gilbert attacked just over the top of the climb, but his move was covered by Costa and the others in the whittled-down chase group.
Gilbert’s team-mate Samuel Sanchez then tried to use his descending ability to slip clear but Costa, once again, wasn’t letting anything get away. Sanchez attacked a second time heading into the final kilometre. This too was covered, then Martin made a perfectly-timed move with 600 metres remaining, darting clear and grabbing his first win of the season.