Despite going into the second week of the Tour de France sitting in third place overall, Dan Martin has downplayed his status as a GC contender.
Cast as an underdog before the start of the race, ten days ago, the 29 year-old came through the first nine stages of the Tour de France unscathed and now finds himself on the podium, 19 seconds behind overall leader Chris Froome.
The Irishman, who is riding the Grande Boucle for the fourth time in his career, was a prominent figure in the Pyrenees, putting in some serious accelerations and responding to all the attacks launched by his opponents on the tough slopes of Peyresourde and Andorre Arcalis.
In the past, Martin always showed himself in the Tour de France, but this is his first crack at the general classification, and so far he is content with how things worked: “When we came into the race, I didn’t have any expectations. I knew I was in good condition from the Criterium du Dauphiné where I was climbing with the best.”
“I was also aware that many things can happen in the first week, which is always very stressful, but the guys did a fantastic job and kept me out of trouble, so fortunately I now find myself in this excellent position.”
The Tour de France is not only the biggest race in the race, but also a huge circus, which means the riders have to well-prepared mentally to cope with the pressure.
As Martin puts it, there’s no point in making long-term plans, when things can change in the blink of an eye on any given day: “Racing the Tour a few times in the past helped me choose the best approach for this edition. I separated myself mentally from all the frenzy that surrounds it and this helped me take the pressure off. Best thing is to take it day by day and don’t think too much about the future.”
“Ok, I’m third at the moment, but that doesn’t mean anything. I will not get carried away and begin thinking of finishing on the podium. If next week I’ll be in the same position, then maybe we will sit down and talk about my chances of coming on in the top 3.”
Next week, the Tour de France schedules two key stages, which can leave a big mark on the overall rankings: a finish on the infamous Mont Ventoux (15.7 kilometres, 8.8% average gradient), on a day in which the temperatures are very likely to plummet, and a rolling 37.5-km long individual time trial in the Ardèche department, on the following day.
This will be the third time that the Irish rider will climb the “Giant of Provence” – following the 2013 edition and a cyclosportive in which he took part a decade ago – and he’s expecting a tough day, although it will very much depend on the plans and tactics of the GC contenders, who are separated at the moment by less than a minute.
“On Ventoux, there’s no place to hide, and truth being told, it doesn’t make any difference if you’re on somebody’s wheel or not. On the other hand, with the headwind we have in the last four kilometres and the ITT on the following day, it could become tactical and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some riders not going all in.”
“It also looks like it will be hot that day, but this doesn’t bother me, I always feel fine when the temperatures are going up”, said Martin, who is looking forward especially to the third week of the Tour de France.
“This year, the climbs in the Alps are more steep and look to be more difficult than the ones of the Pyrenees, but I don’t complain, because the terrain suits me. Anyway, there’s still a long road ahead, so it’s better to stay calm and see what every stage will bring.”