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CHAMBÉRY, France (CT) – It was a day that could have turned out so differently for Dan Martin. Fourth overall on Sunday morning and poised to move up to third after the withdrawal of Geraint Thomas, the Irishman was also looking at a possible stage victory. Martin is a very quick finisher from a small group, has won races in the past in similar circumstances and would have grabbed the opportunity.
Instead, he ended up crashing not once but twice. The first put him on the ground; the second into a wall. Both occurred on the twisting, technical descent of the Mont du Chat, a slippery, serpentine plummet down to the finish in Chambery.
“I don’t think anybody wants to take risks down there,” he said afterwards, cooling down aboard a home trainer outside the QuickStep team bus close to the finish line. “But it was so slippery under the trees. Richie [Porte] just locked up his back wheel, went straight onto the grass, wiped out and then his bike just collected me.
“I had nowhere to go. I was very, very lucky to come away as lightly as I did, I think.”
Martin hit the deck as a result, colliding with the rockface on the right of the descent. He looked back, apparently to admonish Porte, but then saw the Australian was hurt.
“He didn’t look very well to me. He wasn’t moving much,” he said.
“Then I was just trying to get going again.”
The 30-year-old had gone into the day with placings of second and third to his credit, on stages three and five respectively. He was 25 seconds behind the race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky) and chasing his goal of a podium in Paris.
Early on he went close to disaster, being right beside the crash which took second-placed Sky rider Geraint Thomas out of the race.
“I got so lucky,” he told a staff member at the bus. “The first crash I was the last person through. The bike hit my Garmin, it spun it like this [indicates a 90 degree rotation]. That’s how close I was to crashing.”
On the Mont du Chat climb Martin was in the group of GC riders. He was visible in trying to get attacker Fabio Aru (Astana) to slow down after the Italian champion surged just as Froome had a bike issue. Following the tradition of not benefiting from the yellow jersey’s misfortune, Martin encouraged the group to slow and allow Froome to rejoin.
“I am not sure that he knew,” he said, talking about Aru. “I told him afterwards…I said that Chris has got a mechanical, you shouldn’t be attacking. And then Jakob [Fuglsang, Aru’s teammate] attacked. I didn’t want to take advantage of that. You don’t want to win a race like that. I don’t think it is fair cycling. But it is what it is.”
Once the hard racing resumed, Martin was slightly distanced a couple of times after sharp accelerations. However he was able to come back on both occasions. He then looked stronger towards the top and went over at the front of the group.
Pushing forward at the summit was intended to help him to stay out of trouble, but things went astray anyway .
“We take risks,” he said. “But for sure today the route didn’t help. It was very, very slippery with the rain. A lot of gravel on the road. Very fast, technical downhills.
“It was just super-treacherous the whole day. I think the organisers got what they wanted.”
‘I seem to bounce pretty well’
Having hit the ground, Martin momentarily assessed the situation. He had small cuts to his arms and legs, his jersey was slightly torn and his helmet was cracked in places. But, despite what was a spectacular looking tumble, he was largely okay.
“Remarkably, I seem to bounce pretty well,” he said after the stage, smiling. “Somebody was looking after me today for sure.”
He was aware the race was moving away from him and quickly got back to his feet. However there was a further problem that delayed him.
“The front wheel was broken, so I had to get a wheel off Mavic,” he said, referring to neutral support. However there was another problem in store.
“I didn’t have any brakes going into the next corner [because of the wheel change] so I crashed again,” he continued. “I just went straight on into the wall as I literally just didn’t have any brakes.
“Luckily the team car caught up with me again and I managed to get my spare bike.”
A group of riders had passed Martin after those issues and he threw himself into getting up to them. He tore around corners on the descent, putting fear of another crash out of his mind.
“I was flying on the downhill and caught the group in front,” he said. “We caught Nairo [Quintana] at the bottom and rode as hard as we could all together like a time trial. Everybody was committed. We limited our losses, and gained time on whomever was behind.
“But I have got no idea of the race situation, what happened. It was just a case of getting to the finish. I went from sitting pretty and being really content and having the job done almost to…” Martin paused, exhaled, and then looked like things were starting to sink in about the time loss.
Despite two crashes, the need to change a wheel and then to get a spare bike, he finished ninth, just one minute and 15 seconds behind the front group containing Froome and led in by Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac). His strength in chasing suggests he would have been a factor in the stage result, as does his known finishing speed.
That wasn’t to be, though, and instead of ending the day third overall, he is sixth. His 25 second deficit to Froome has increased to one minute 44 seconds.
“My back feels a bit jammed but other than that… I am sure I’ll wake up sore tomorrow morning, but I am remarkably okay,” he said, disappointed about the stage outcome but relieved not to be badly hurt.
“I think I am very lucky. It is nice that we have got a rest day tomorrow to recover from this, for sure.”
Was the descent too dangerous for the Tour de France?
The fall raised questions about whether or not the course was fair game to include in the race. It was narrower and more twisting than many Tour descents, and allowed minimal room for error.
Directeur sportif Brian Holm regarded the crash it as something that is always possible in the sport. “Shit happens,” he said. “We know the descent from the Dauphine. It is about staying in the front.
“We knew that Froome is getting pretty good in those downhills. Stay around Froome. He is doing a very, very good job, chapeau to him how he did that. A few of them were struggling to follow and of course we knew there could be a crash. Unfortunately, Richie took Dan with him.
“He lost some time in the GC and he might otherwise have had fair chance to win the stage. I think he was among the favourites.”
Holm is very experienced, having raced professionally for many years and then spending over a decade helping to run teams and guide riders.
Did he think a descent like the Mont du Chat is too dangerous for the Tour?
“Not at all. Not at all,” he said, dismissing the suggestion. “We did it already in the Dauphiné and I heard no complaint after Dauphiné. If it is too dangerous, the riders should go slower, shouldn’t they? Cycling is just a very, very dangerous sport and you have to adapt the speed.
“Unfortunately Richie Porte caused the crash himself. Unfortunately he took Dan with him. It is not the first time in cycling and certainly not the last.”
Holm told CyclingTips earlier this week that he believed Martin had a solid chance of making the podium. Given the time lost on Sunday, it seemed logical to ask him if that was still on the cards.
“For sure it is more difficult now,” he admitted. “Imagine how it would be if he had won and taken 10 seconds bonus. But there is a long way to go.
“Of course it makes it more difficult now. But he showed already he is ready.”
He said that he believed Martin will move back up the general classification. “He will, he will,” he stated. “Maybe somebody else is going to crash. That is part of cycling. We will see.
“We are still fighting to get on the podium. We know it is more difficult but with that in mind, I think he can pick up some morale after showing he has the legs. But he didn’t have the luck today. That’s a little bit part of cycling also.”