Vuelta Stage 9 reaction: Dan Martin taking each day as it comes, Wiggo says today "a bonus"
Team Sky leader makes unexpected gains ahead of tomorrow's individual time trial in Salamanca
Dan Martin of Garmin-Cervelo insisted this evening that he was treating each day of the Vuelta as a one-day race - the cyclist's equivalent of a footballer saying he'll take each day as it comes - despite an impressive performance by the 25-year-old this afternoon that saw him land the first Grand Tour stage win of his career.
While some of the best climbers in the sport were struggling on the 16-kilometre climb of La Covatilla that brought Stage 9 of the 2011 Vuelta to a close, Martin was putting in an impressive performance that justified the support of those who had sung his praises before the three-week race began and singled him out as a potential top ten finisher.
A former British junior road race champion, but now racing for Ireland - his mother, Maria, is Irish legend Stephen Roche's sister - Martin attacked a litttle over 5 kilometres from the summit, and briefly had his cousin, AG2R's Nicolas Roche, for company before the latter fell back.
Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas Cannondale was the first to bridge across to Martin, followed by a select group including Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins, who powered to the front in the last phase of the climb; the Briton would finish fourth, with Martin attacking with the line in sight to clinch the stage.
Dan Martin and Nico Roche - one for the family album (copyright: Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
Afterwards, Martin, who celebrated his 25th birthday on the opening day of this year's race, said: "I’ve won a stage in a Grand Tour against some of the world’s best climbers. It’s really exciting for the future, but I just think of the present.
Asked for his thoughts over tomorrow's 47 kilometre individual time trial in Salamanca, the Birmingham-born rider insisted: "I haven’t thought about that yet. Every day I think that I’m doing a one-day race. I’ve never done such a long time trial before. It’ll be windy on flat roads. It’s not exactly what I’m good at. I prefer just to think about today, really."
Bradley Wiggins takes control on the ascent (copyright: Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
"Today had originally been about me trying to limit my losses as much as possible to guys like Van den Broeck and Rodriguez but I surprised myself," admitted Wiggins after the stage.
"I didn’t think I’d be as good as that as it was the first all-out summit finish I’d done since the Dauphiné. Obviously Sierra Nevada came earlier this week but everyone cancelled each other out a bit on there.
"I’m delighted with how things went and once I saw people were in difficulties behind I went into time trial mode and tried to take as much time off them as possible," he continued.
"Tomorrow is where I am expecting to make most of my gains and everything I earned here was a bonus – it was a fantastic finish and it couldn’t have gone any better.
"The team were brilliant again as well and Froomey is shining; he’s really come to the fore now and has proved his worth," added the British champion.
"It was phenomenal to see and the rest of the boys have not put a foot wrong all week – I haven’t had to lift a finger and even though I’ve been nervous at times they coaxed me through it and put me in the right position when it’s mattered."
While WIggins' performance today saw him unexpectedly gain time ahead of tomorrow's individual time trial, for overnight race leader Joaquin Rodriguez of Katusha, today should have been all about trying to gain some more time over his rivals.
However, the Spaniard struggled up the final climb and was one of several potential challengers for the GC to lose contact with the likes of Wiggins and Van Den Broeck, and lost the race lead by just 1 second to Rabobank's Bauke Mollema.
Joaquin Rodriguez feels the pain (copyright: Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
Following the stage, Rodriguez explained: “When we hit the hardest part of the climb, I’ve lacked my normal cadence. I was pushing the same gear as the others, which is too much for me and it meant that I wasn’t going well.
"The finale of the climb seemed like an eternity. Maybe I went hunger flat but usually, the fatigue hits you without any warning. This is a bad result. I’m sad because I’ve lost almost all of what I gained the previous days. I have to re-start from scratch. The advantage I have left isn’t enough before the time trial against the specialists.”
Despite taking the red jersey from Rodriguez, Mollema too was given to self-criticism after the stage,the Dutchman, who finished second behind Martin, asserting that he should have won it.
“I’m obviously happy to take the red jersey but I’m disappointed to have lost the stage. I’m angry. It’s my fault. I’ve been beaten by surprise," he claimed afterwards, adding, "The red jersey is a consolation price. It’s a nice gift to conclude the day."
Bauke Mollema in the Vuelta leader's jersey (copyright: Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
"Uphill, the head wind was very strong and I stayed alongside Wiggins and Froome," added the Rabobank rider. "The group was more and more reduced. I passed “Purito” [Rodriguez] with 5km to go, he didn’t look super. That was a real surprise!
"I’ll fight in the time trial of course but Wiggins is quite close [at one minute] and it’ll be hard. I feel good and I know that hard stages will come after the rest day. I think that I can fight against the best climbers. It’s something special to lead a Grand Tour. I’ve dreamt about that for a few years," he concluded.