Three years ago, Dan Martin finished second at Mûr-de-Bretagne, but at this year’s Tour de France, he wasn’t bettered as he scored his second Tour de France stage win five years after the first one in the Pyrenees. In doing so, he also became the first ever UAE Team Emirates rider to claim a stage win at the Tour. Greg Van Avermaet meanwhile retained the yellow jersey.
The Irishman, who finished sixth on yesterday’s stage, has looked strong all week and had highlighted this stage as one of his main goals for the Tour. The team protected Martin well throughout the 181-kilometre route from Brest to Mur de Bretagne allowing him to match all the attacks and accelerations in the final kilometres of the race.
Five riders went clear right from the start – Laurent Pichon (Fortuneo-Samsic), Damien Gaudin and Fabien Grellier (Direct Energie), Anthony Turgis (Cofidis) and Dion Smith (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) – and gained a maximum lead of over seven minutes.
Grellier was the last man breakaway rider to be caught at km 165, before the first passage on the finishing line at Mûr-de-Bretagne where Tom Skujins (Trek-Segafredo) extended his lead in the King of the Mountains classification. Jack Bauer (Mitchelton-Scott) countered and went solo. The Kiwi took three seconds bonus at the bonus point while Geraint Thomas (Sky) got two.
Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) and Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) both had mechanicals in the last 5 kilometres. The Frenchman made it across but not the Dutchman. Bardet then lost contact with the first part of the peloton after Dan Martin attacked with 1.2km to go, following an acceleration by Richie Porte (BMC). Pierre Latour (AG2R-La Mondiale) countered but failed to catch the Irishman while Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) settled for third in front of his arch-rival in the uphill finishes Julian Alaphilippe (Quick Step).
Commenting on today’s result, Martin said: “This is such an amazing feeling for me after so many second places at the Tour since my last one victory in the Grande Boucle. I was really relaxed all day and I was really looking forward to having a crack.
“When we got closer to the finish I was a bit nervous because of the head wind and I didn’t think it was going to happen. Then the race went really hard during the first part of the climb and a lot of riders got dropped and at that point I noticed that I didn’t have any team mates left so I thought why not have a try – and I did.
He continued: “It was the same place that I tried to attack in 2015, but got boxed in. It was a case of waiting for everybody to be in the red, because I know I can go further into the red. I put in an explosive attack that I didn’t know I still had, but there was no way I was letting anyone beat me to the line. Thankfully the legs were there and they took me all the way. Getting this victory – especially as the team’s leader and not just a GC rider – makes the Tour a success already and now anything else is a bonus.”
Tomorrow’s stage 7 leaves Brittany from the town of Fougères, and heads west towards Chartres along a flat 231-kilometre route. Whilst the stage is relatively simple, it is the longest in this year’s Tour. The course is also known for its fierce crosswinds in the final kilometres, which will force the formation of echelons and cause problems for the riders hoping to contend a bunch sprint finish.