The 29-year-old showed how much he improved against the clock, putting in a solid display on stage 18.
For the first time in years, the mountain time trial returned to the Grande Boucle, as the riders faced a 17-km long test against the clock. The start was given from Sallanches, which has previously hosted two editions of the World Championships, in 1964 and 1980, and the first part consisted of a fast downhill and a flat part. As soon as that ended, the road began to rise, up to Côte de Domancy (2.5 km, 9.4%), which was followed by another short ascent, that opened the way for the last climb of the day, Côte de Chozeaux (3.1 km, 5.4%). The final two kilometers were in a downhill, with the closing meters bringing a couple of technical corners before the finish in Megève, which was hosting a Tour de France arrival for the first time.
Last Etixx – Quick-Step rider to roll down the ramp, Dan Martin had a very fast start, posting a top result by the time he went through the first intermediate split. Once he hit the slopes of Domancy, the Irishman began to feel more comfortable, as he was on familiar ground, and continued to dig deep in order to get a good time in Megève, where he stopped the clock in 32:11, after safely negotiating the tricky corners and sprinting to the line. Eventually, as other riders came in, Dan lost some places, but still concluded the stage with an impressive result – 16th, around one minute and a half behind yellow jersey Chris Froome (Team Sky), who took the win – and made sure of going into the last three stages of the race with a good shot at his maiden Tour de France top 10 finish.
"I had the best equipment possible and I'm grateful for that, this was very important today. I did my best, although it wasn't easy. I suffered for around two kilometers after the steepest part of the route and lost some time there. We are 18 days into the Tour de France, we have 3 000 kilometers in the legs, some very fast flat kilometers with crazy winds and a lot of altitude gain, so it's normal to feel tired", said Dan, who is 10th in the overall standings and is now looking with confidence towards Friday's stage. "This morning I felt good, but things changed during the race. Hopefully, tomorrow morning I will wake up with the same sensations. I never felt so good this late into a Tour de France, I also managed to avoid being sick and I'm happy for that. Two crucial mountain stages are now coming and I hope things will go in the way I want."
Stage 19 of the race will take the peloton from Albertville to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc, over a mountainous course – with more than 4 000 meters of vertical gain – which is set to finish on a 9.8-km long first-category climb, averaging 8% and pitching up to 10.8%.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele