LE PUY-EN-VELAY, France (CT) – Although many have identified the upcoming two alpine mountain stages as the key days prior to Saturday’s Marseilles time trial, Dan Martin has said that splits could occur anytime before then.
The Irishman is currently fifth on the general classification, and has been gradually whittling away at the deficit he incurred when he was brought down in a crash with Richie Porte on stage nine. He had been 25 seconds off yellow prior to that fall, dropped to one minute 44 back but is now one minute 12 off yellow.
His goal is a podium finish in the race and he said he will be looking for chances prior to the stage 20 time trial.
“I think it is going to be a very nervous four days,” he told CyclingTips on Monday’s rest day. “Everybody looks at the profile and just sees simple days, but tomorrow will probably be crosswinds. Friday will also be crosswinds, I think. It will be a very, very difficult long stage, very hot with crosswinds at the end.”
Indeed his prediction for Tuesday appears to be accurate. Winds picked up overnight, raising the prospects of echelons. Martin’s QuickStep Floors team is arguably the best in cycling in such conditions, capitalising on crosswinds each year in the spring Classics and other races, and will seek to do the same and move Martin further up the GC.
Stages 16 and 19 aside, he will also hope to thrive on the big Alpine days.
“Obviously on the Izoard, I think the tactics will be quite simple,” he said, referring to Thursday’s summit finish. “I think everybody will wait for the last climb and there will be a race up the last climb. Unless somebody has a really bad day the gaps won’t be huge, because the level is so equal.
“But the Galibier stage has extra altitude. Obviously the Izoard is super high, but the Galibier is over 2600 metres. With the altitude at the steepest part of the climb, it is going to be an incredibly difficult stage. There is the potential for guys to really explode and lose a lot of time as it is such a long way to the finish.”
Martin believes it is possible for some of those in contention to slip right out of the reckoning. “It is really a case that if somebody has a really bad day and gets dropped, they are going to lose the race,” he said. “I think these next four days you are going to see people losing the race rather than winning the race.
“It is going to be the most consistent rider out of those four days who is going to win the Tour.”
A rider who has previously used well-timed attacks to win a Tour stage, the Tour of Poland and Il Lombardia, Martin has appeared to be enjoying himself in the race, clipping away on stages 13 and 15 and gaining time on the other GC riders. That has helped him recoup some of the time he lost due to the crash with Porte.
“I just enjoy the tactical side of racing,” he said. “I am racing without pressure. I really don’t see that I have anything to lose. I am not racing to hold onto fifth or sixth on GC at the Tour. I am just racing to do my best every day and see what happens.
“Obviously it would be great if I was able to get a good result in Paris, but it is not the end of the world if I don’t because I have shown what a good rider I am.
“I know already from last year that I can be top ten in the Tour de France. At the end of the day, another top ten on the GC doesn’t really count for much. The next step for a top ten is a top five, but then again so is the podium. That is achievable this year, but it is only achievable if I keep racing the way I like to race. So I am going to continue that way.”