Dan Martin of Garmin-Sharp, a past stage winner in the Vuelta and victor in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Catalonia earlier this year, has added a stage win of the Tour de France to his palmarès. The 26-year-old attacked along with Astana's Jakob Fuglsang on the last of five big climbs on today's 168.5km stage from Saint-Girons to Bagnères de Bigorre, the pair staying out front on the 22 kilometre descent to the finish.
With Peter Kennaugh crashing and Richie Porte suffering following yesterday's exertions, race leader Chris Froome of Team Sky found himself isolated from his team mates for almost the entire stage, but managed to withstand a series of attacks from his rivals and retains the yellow jersey ahead as the race heads north, with a rest day in Saint-Nazaire tomorrow.
Martin becomes the fifth Irishman to win a Tour de France stage – the others are his uncle, Stephen Roche, Shay Elliott, Sean Kelly and Martin Earley.
It’s a curiosity, however, that Martin, who hails from Birmingham, is also the first UK-born stage winner since Chris Boardman won the 1998 Prologue in, of, all places, Dublin; no subsequent British stage winner – Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, David Millar or Mark Cavendish – was actually born in the Uk.
With a saw toothed profile due to those four big climbs – a Category 2, followed by five Category 1 ascents – today’s second Pyrenean stage of the 100th edition of cycling’s biggest race represented an opportunity for Froome’s rivals to try and claw back some of the time they had lost yesterday.
In that stage, ahead of Froome’s emphatic win at Ax 3 Domaines, Kennaugh and Porte had put in huge turns on the front on behalf of their team leader. Indeed, such was Sky’s dominance that Porte lay second on GC this morning, the only rider able to keep within a minute of Froome yesterday.
But this had always looked like a stage for a potential ambush to be laid against Sky’s plans, and Garmin-Sharp and Movistar would be among the day’s major protagonists.
The racing was furious from the start, with a series of attacks from the likes of Vacansoleil-DCM’s Johnny Hoogerland, Garmin-Sharp’s David Millar and Jack Bauer, and Tejay van Garderen of BMC Racing all trying and failing to get away inside the first 20 kilometres ahead of the day’s first ascent, the Col de Portet d’Aspet.
The pace left Froome, whose Sky colleagues had been setting the pace at the front of the group, with just four team mates to help him as the climb began and almost 150 kilometres left to ride.
Soon there was one less as the 24-year-old Kennaugh, riding his debut Tour de France, crashed into a roadside ditch, resulting in him looking shaken and nursing a gash on his elbow.
Briefly, Froome found himself with no team mates as Porte fell back and worse, a number of riders had formed a group slightly ahead, with the yellow jersey battling to get back on.
He would be rejoined by Porte ahead of the next climb, the Col de Menté, but this time the Australian found the going to tough and was dropped, eventually toiling home some 18 minutes down.
Garmin-Sharp, through attacks from riders including Martin, Jack Bauer and David Millar, had been among the most prominent of the day’s protagonists, and now it was Tom Danielson followed by Ryder Hesjedal who crested that Category 1 summit at the head of the race.
With 124.5 kilometres left to ride, the isolated Froome now found himself under repeated attack as his rivals sought to dislodge him, with Movistar taking their turn to go on the offensive, Rui Costa, Alejandro Valverde and Ruben Plaza all trying to put the Team Sky man under pressure.
Up ahead, the identity of the men, and the size of the groups, at the head of the race would ebb and flow over the next two climbs, with Thomas de Gendt of Vacansoleil-DCM pipping Europcar’s Pierre Rolland to the maximum mountains points on the Col de Peyresourde.
Next, Orica-GreenEdge’s Simon Clarke riding alone over the summit of the Col de Val Louron-Azet, which came with 58 kilometres left. Back in the maillot jaune group, Froome’s rivals had still failed to break him.
One more climb remained, La Hourquette d’Ancizan, an ascent of 9.9 kilometres at an average gradient of 7.5%, with Ag2R-La Mondiale's Romain Bardet, now out in front on his own as the road began to head uphill, but he would soon be caught.
Quintana would launch a series of attacks to try and dislodge Froome, and other riders too made bids to break clear of what was becoming an ever-shrinking GC group, but the decisive one came from Martin and Fuglsang who crested the summit around three quarters of a minute clear.
That margin would be slashed by half ahead of the finish, but they wouldn’t be caught, Martin outsprinting the Dane for the win. Behind, Michal Kwiatowski of Omega Pharma-Quick Step led the bunch home to take third place on the stage.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.