An aggressive display in the mountains and a solid overall ride helped the Irishman record his best ever result in cycling's biggest stage race.
On Sunday evening, under a blue and beautiful sky, Dan Martin rode into Paris tucked in the peloton and safely completed the last stage, taking his maiden top 10 finish in Le Tour. There was a brief moment of panic inside the last 25 kilometers of stage 21, when Dan punctured, but a fast wheel change meant that he was back in the bunch in no time. By coming 9th, not only that he nabbed his best ever result in four Tour de France participations, but he also brought Ireland its top placing in the general classification since 1992, when his uncle Stephen Roche concluded also in 9th place.
After finishing on the podium of Volta a Catalunya and of the Critérium du Dauphiné in his first six months with Etixx – Quick-Step, showing a remarkable consistency in all the races he's done, Dan Martin lined up for the Grande Boucle with the ambition of doing a good general classification, and the top 10 he got in Paris, where he concluded the race less than three minutes off the podium, came as extra confirmation of the fact he's stepped up his game since the beginning of the season.
"This was a Tour of firsts: first time I've targeted the general classification, first Grand Tour with Etixx – Quick-Step. It was a learning experience for both parties, but if there's a thing it showed me, is that I have room to improve and go for an even better result."
We got 16 top 10 placings, and this just shows the incredible depth of the team.
"We were the only team who rode for the sprints and for the overall, we animated the race in numerous occasions and I think we have to be happy with what we did", said Dan minutes after arriving on the Champs-Élysées.
Etixx – Quick-Step came close to finishing the Tour de France with all nine riders, but in the final 40 kilometers of Sunday's stage, Tony Martin climbed off his bike and called it a day, due to a nagging injury which made it really difficult for him: "It's tough and disappointing to abandon in the last day, but my left knee was really hurting and it was imposible for me to complete the stage. I began to suffer since Saturday, when I came last on the stage, just inside the time cut. We will see tomorrow what is the nature of this injury."
Besides Tony's abandon, Etixx – Quick-Step suffered another mishap, as a broken pedal and then a flat forced Marcel Kittel to change his bike on the Paris circuit. Unfortunately, he lost a minute and although he rejoined the pack after a frantic chase, the huge effort he made took its toll in the last kilometer, when he couldn't get involved in the sprint: "It's not so many times in your life that you have the chance to fight for victory on the Champs-Élysées and I was feeling good after getting out of the mountains. It's a real pity and at the same time very frustrating, but there's nothing we can do about it. In this Tour de France, we had three punctures, two of which came today. That spells bad luck. Then, in the final, I was empty and couldn't go for it in the sprint. That's sport, it can happen to anyone, anytime."
On a positive side, all of the team's Tour de France debutants – Julian Alaphilippe, Iljo Keisse and Petr Vakoč – finished the race, and brought their contribution to the squad's success, Etixx – Quick-Step being one of the eight teams who scored a stage victory and placed a rider in the top 10. Flat, hills or mountains, you name it, the team was always a protagonist and managed to leave a lasting impression on the 103rd edition of the Grande Boucle, from Marcel's win in Limoges and Dan's 9th place to Julian's five-day spell in the white jersey and the combativity prize he shared with Tony on stage 16.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele