In attacking mode on the final climb of the day, the Irish rider finished fourth, while teammate Julian Alaphilippe retained the white jersey.
The first real mountain stage of the French race was scheduled on Friday afternoon, and Etixx – Quick-Step was again up there with the best once things became hectic, on the final ascent of the day. Vaujany, a 6.4-km long second-category limb averaging 6.5%, was making its debut in Dauphiné, and first to tackle it were the five escapees – Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Cyril Gautier (AG2R), Andriy Grivko (Astana), Bartosz Huzarski (Bora-Argon 18) and Dayer Quintana (Movistar) – who were holding a two-minute gap over the peloton. Led by Tinkoff, the chasers wiped out that advantage without too much trouble, just as the gradients were becoming more and more punishing, so the race witnessed a fresh start.
First to move from the reduced bunch was Mikel Landa (Team Sky), before Dan Martin accelerated and forced an important selection, once Maxime Bouet finished his job at the head of the peloton. Teammate Julian Alaphilippe, race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), Chris Froome (Team Sky), Richie Porte (BMC) and Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) were the ones to have a reaction and join the double Monument winner on the grueling 12% ramps. With around two kilometers left, Froome moved to the front of that group and attacked the others, Porte being the only one to get himself glued to last year's winner's wheel.
While the two were heading to the finish line, where the Brit took the win and with it the yellow jersey, Dan Martin was putting in a huge effort not far behind, to limit the losses. The 29-year-old Irishman went full tilt in the closing part and completed the 140-km long stage between La Ravoire and Vaujany in fourth, 19 seconds adrift, an impressive result considering it came less than a week after he returned to competition, following the break he took right after Liège–Bastogne–Liège. Besides him, also Julian finished in the top 10 for Etixx – Quick-Step on Friday, and retained the white jersey, which he will now wear for the sixth day in a row.
Fourth on the stage and fourth also in the general classification, after moving up a spot, Dan Martin displayed his trademark aggressive tactic and went to the offensive on the last of the five climbs, and that paid off in the end, as he rolled over the line two seconds ahead of Contador and proved that he's on the right track for July's Tour de France: "You couldn't see it on TV, but the opening 80 kilometers were really crazy and demanding, always up and down, and at a fast pace. Tony and Maxime did a great job to bring us in a good position at the foot of the climb, and from that point on it was all about giving your all. I tried to attack and take the others by surprise, hoping they will hesitate to follow me and so I'll get a gap, but they closed down my move immediately."
On Saturday, the queen-stage of the race awaits the peloton, and it's very likely that the fireworks will begin before the finish in Méribel, but Dan is confident he can be again in the mix with the best: "Considering that Dauphiné is my first race since April, I'm satisfied with how I felt and the result I got. During my six-week break, I didn't train specifically on the climbs, so to come today in the top 5 it's really great. I know there's still room to improve and I am sure we can continue to score other nice results in the race. Tomorrow we have five climbs in the menu, including the leg-sapping Col de la Madeleine, and I'm sure things will become very interesting before the last climb."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele