The Etixx – Quick-Step rider became the first Irishman to finish the race on the podium, while teammate Julian Alaphilippe went home with a top 10 overall and the white jersey.
Until this year, in the seven decades that have passed since the Criterium du Dauphiné was created, no Irish rider managed to conclude the event on the podium, best ever result of the country being a 6th place, 32 years ago. All these stats changed on Sunday after Dan Martin's cracking ride in the final stage of the 68th edition, at the end of which he notched another podium, the 6 seconds he took for coming second and the ones he opened on the road helping him jump in the standings and complete the pre-Tour de France test in third, behind winner Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Romain Bardet (AG2R), but ahead of two other riders he's expected to fight against in July, Richie Porte (BMC) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff).
A tough mountain test, stage 7 set off from Le Pont-de-Claix and went over five categorized climbs before the final obstacle of the day, the third-category Superdévoluy (3.8 kilometers, 5.9%), which was returning to the race after a three-year hiatus. Long before that, Tony Martin moved to the front of the reduced peloton and his mammoth effort trimmed the bunch, while reeling in all bar one of the day's 20 escapees, Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data), who was more than four minutes up the road with around 30 kilometers remaining.
The pace became really fierce on Col du Noyer when Contador attacked, a move which blew up the peloton and had only a handful of riders react. The Spaniard launched a flurry of attacks on the final two kilometers, but yellow jersey Chris Froome sticked to his wheel and didn't give the 33-year-old any space. Both Dan Martin and Julian Alaphilippe were distanced on the tough 10% slopes and crested the top of the first-category climb with a 15-second deficit, which they eventually overcame on the fast descent leading to Superdévoluy.
Other riders joined the group, which was growing in numbers, and with the win being in Stephen Cumming's bag, they fought for the podium places and the bonus seconds which were up for grabs. Dan patiently waited for the right moment before opening his super kick, and when he did, no one could pass and stop him from getting another podium at the French event. Romain Bardet rounded out the podium, while Julian Alaphilippe came in the same time and notched his sixth top 10 placing in the Criterium du Dauphiné, a well-deserved result which proved once again his incredible consistency and versatility.
"Today we wanted to try to win the stage and get the bonus seconds, because it would have helped us secure the podium, but when Cummings went he was too far ahead, so we changed the plan and we focused on improving our general classification. On the second-to-last climb, Contador attacked and I suffered, but I managed to come back on the downhill. We were aware there was a strong headwind on the final ascent, so I waited for as long as possible before accelerating. Bardet was following me, but I went full gas and never looked over my shoulder. After crossing the line I had no idea I was in the top 3, it was only on my way to the bus that our sport director Jan Schaffrath told me that I climbed in the GC", said Dan Martin after securing his second World Tour top 3 of the season, following the one in March's Volta a Catalunya.
With Dauphiné being a wrap, Dan Martin will now turn his attention to the next goal of the season, the Tour de France, which will kick off in three weeks' time:
I am happy with this result and the week I had, the team was really great and always there by my side. It was one of our best races this season.
"This achievement makes me really proud, to be the first one that does something special for my country is fantastic. I'm going home satisfied and motivated to continue my preparation for the Tour de France and work on my explosiveness. My goal is to be ready, fresh and as relaxed as possible at the start of the Tour."
Riding the Criterium du Dauphiné for the third time in a row, Julian Alaphilippe enjoyed his best World Tour stage race since turning pro, finishing sixth in the overall standings and winning the young riders classification. The first Frenchman in five years to take the white jersey, Julian was over the moon after the sterling week he had in his home race: "I can't express in words how happy I am. At the start of the competition I wasn't expecting such a result, but things went better with every day that passed and I began to believe in my chances. The last stages, when we hit high altitude, were difficult, but helped by a great team which gave 110% for me I stayed motivated and pushed hard. Now I will go home and recover before starting to build up for the National Championships."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele