Dan Martin leads Volta a Catalunya after superb win
The Irishman took off in the last kilometer of stage 3 and left everyone else behind, scoring his maiden World Tour victory of the season.
Volta a Catalunya is a race which Dan Martin loves; after all, he won the general classification back in 2013, en route to this taking also an impressive stage victory. Now, the 29-year-old – who is in his first season with Etixx – Quick-Step – showed once again why he is one of the best riders in the world on explosive finishes, by landing another thrilling and spectacular win in the same Spanish race, at La Molina, a regular feature in Catalunya for some time now.
Coming at the start as Etixx – Quick-Step's leader and looking to improve on his tenth place of the previous edition, Dan stayed safe in the first two days of the event and patiently waited for the first opportunity to show himself, which came on Wednesday, when the peloton faced a tough stage (Girona – La Molina, 172.1 km), with four categorized climbs. As expected, a break – featuring also Julian Alaphilippe – was in the spotlight in the first part of the day, but with the GC riders knowing this stage presented itself as an important chance for them, it became obvious that the escape won't succeed.
Eventually, it all came together on the final climb – La Molina (11.1 km, 4.5% average gradient) – where Sky controlled the peloton before sending Wout Poels to the attack. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) was the first to respond, followed by Nairo Quintana (Movistar), who had a short dig. Inside the final kilometer, just as the race was experiencing some sort of status quo, Dan Martin sensed an opportunity and attacked, putting a handful of seconds between him and his opponents, before they got to react. Without ever looking behind, the Irishman surged on the first-category ascent and arrived alone at the finish line, where he delivered his second victory of the year, after the one in Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana.
The Etixx – Quick-Step rider was followed on the podium by seven-time Grand Tour winner Alberto Contador and Romain Bardet (AG2R). In the overall standings, thanks to the time he took on the road and the bonus seconds he grabbed at the arrival, Martin leads with a 6-second advantage over Contador, four days before the conclusion of the race.
I am so happy for this win. The guys were incredible!
"Since this morning they said they will ride for me and did a fantastic job. It's great to see how much confidence they have in me, and this only makes me stronger. I knew this finish, and what helped is that it was similar to the one in Valenciana, Alto de Fredes. In the key moments I stayed at the front and I was relaxed all the time. There was some headwind on the climb, so it was important to time the attack to perfection on that steep part of La Molina", said Dan Martin of his great victory, before going on to talk of Thursday's tough finish: "That's another hard climb, and it will be difficult to defend the jersey. Still, we have a very strong team and will try to keep the lead. The time gaps are always small in this race, so who will come out on top tomorrow will probably win the GC."
Martin, a two-time Monument winner, began his season at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, and continued at the Tour of Oman, where his ride was unfortunately hampered by illness. As a result, he didn't go to Tirreno-Adriatico, as scheduled, but returned stronger for the Spanish World Tour event, and explained what was the key of his good form: "I always try to be competitive in races. Because of the virus I had in Oman I couldn't train properly, so the team and I agreed to take a break in order to regain my fitness. I skipped Tirreno and stayed at home, where I trained hard, did some motor-pacing sessions, and all this effort paid off here."
Stage 4 of Volta a Catalunya (Baga – Port Ainé, 172.2 km) will be another affair of the climbers, who'll fight on the last ascent for the victory, but also to make some gaps in the general classification. Port Ainé is 18.5 km-long and averages 6.8%, with the final 4 kilometers having a gradient of 8.3%. The climb returns to the race after three years, at the previous visit Daniel Martin being the one who took the honours.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele