Rain, crashes and a hard tempo – these were the main ingredients of stage 19, this edition's last summit finish.
Dan Martin is 9th in the overall standings of the Tour de France with just two days left to go, after going to the attack on the tough Le Bettex climb. A rider who often earns praise for his aggressive approach regardless of the race he's doing, Dan powered away on the 9.8-km long climb, without being scared by the tough 8% gradients or Team Sky's relentless pace. At that point of the race, with just four kilometers to go, Romain Bardet (AG2R) and Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) – the lone survivor of the day's escape, were leading with a 1:20 gap, while the elite group was shattered as a result of Astana's hard tempo and of the slippery roads which led to many riders crashing out of the race.
Lying in 10th overall at the start of the day, which took the peloton from Albertville – the site of the 1992 Winter Olympics – to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc (146 kilometers), Dan made it safely over the wet roads and punishing climbs, tackling in good condition the final ascent, which was returning to the Tour de France after a 26-year hiatus. The surge he put in helped him open a gap on the chasers, who reacted only after seeing the Irishman's advantage was increasing at the 3km to go mark.
Caught by a small group driven by Movistar, the Etixx – Quick-Step rider didn't wave the flag and sticked with the others, who were going full gas in order to distance race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky). Dan crossed the finish line in seventh place, 36 seconds behind stage winner Romain Bardet, and at the end of the day saw his efforts pay off, as he gained a place in the general classification ahead of the race's final mountain test (Megève – Morzine).
"Some riders crashing in front of me and I was a bit more careful, but the Specialized tires are the best in the world, so I didn't have problems and wasn't nervous on that dangerous descent. I stayed relaxed all day, the guys helped me the best way they could and I had strong legs. I knew Bardet was up the road and and that's why I decided to attack. I felt I could go for the stage win, especially as I didn't thought there was an interest in chasing me. Still, despite being caught, I'm glad I had this go", Dan explained his surge, the first to come on Le Bettex from the favourites' group.
Asked by the media about the feelings he has after 19 days of racing and his place in the general classification, 29-year-old Dan made a short analysis of his race, underlining that all that has happened gives so far him an extra boost of confidence for the future: "The time I've lost comes down to experience, which is something you get with learning. I'm definitely one of the best guys on the climbs here in the race, so in the winter I will work more on my time trial, because I saw that I can fight for a good overall in the Tour de France."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele