UAE Team Emirates’ Dan Martin is hoping the injuries sustained in a stage-eight crash will not slow him down now the Tour de France has reached his favoured terrain in the mountains.
The Irishman celebrated victory on the Mur-de-Bretagne on stage six but was among the general classification hopefuls caught out in the chaotic opening week of the Tour.
He crashed heavily on Saturday’s stage eight to Amiens and suffering cuts and bruises on his back, hip and elbow.
“The power is still there and the condition is still good,” the 31-year-old said on Monday’s rest day.
“It’s far from ideal, if you crash on the Tour de France its going to impact your recovery on a long-term scale but though yesterday was difficult the rest day has given my body a chance.”
The last thing Martin needed the day after a heavy tumble was a stage over the rough cobbles of northern France, but that is precisely what Sunday’s stage nine to Roubaix delivered.
Martin dodged the carnage which ended Richie Porte’s race and caught out Chris Froome, Rigoberto Uran and Romain Bardet among others, and managed to come out smiling.
“The main thing for me was to not crash,” he said. “There was a bit of a fear factor, when you’ve had a really scary crash and you go back into that battle zone, it’s hard psychologically.
“But what an experience it was. It was kind of cool to race the cobbles. That’s how I’m approaching this whole Tour de France, just to enjoy it for what it is. It’s a crazy moving circus around France and every day is different.”
Though he finished with a smile, posting pictures alongside his team-mates of their dusty faces, Martin revealed there was at least one x-rated picture that was held back as some of his stage eight wounds reopened.
“There was blood seeping through my jersey,” he said. “I had one pretty disgusting photo of my jersey at the finish line but the guys said, ‘You can’t really post that’ and I guess they were right.
“But it’s kind of remarkable how I’ve bounced again. I’ve got a big bruise on my back and on my hip but from the waist down there’s barely a scratch and that’s the bit that makes the bike go forward.”
Aside from the bruises the bigger concern for Martin on stage eight was a loss of 76 seconds which saw him slip to 24th overall, three minutes 22 seconds off yellow and almost two minutes down on the likes of Froome and several other overall contenders.
Martin arrived in France looking to test himself in the general classification after defying two broken vertebrae in his back – suffered in a stage-nine crash – to finish sixth overall last year.
Though he has yet more bumps and bruises, he is not changing his approach to the race.
“That’s what I keep thinking to myself,” he said. “It isn’t easy, but it’s easier than last year.”
Chris Froome insists Team Sky’s leadership at the Tour de France will be decided on the road.
Former Sky rider Sir Bradley Wiggins has claimed the team would have a “a real problem” if Geraint Thomas took the yellow jersey ahead of team-mate Froome.
Sky have talked up the benefits of having Thomas second overall, 43 seconds behind leader Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and 59 ahead of Froome after nine stages.
Though Sky have reiterated that Froome remains the team leader, Thomas has so far been given licence to race for himself and 2012 winner Wiggins feels it could cause trouble.
“This is where it gets difficult, as we hit first mountain stage,” Wiggins said on his Eurosport show. “If Geraint stays where he is and takes the yellow jersey they’ve got a real problem on their hands.”
Froome played down any talk of friction after finishing a ride on the Tour’s first rest day.
“I think the race, as always, will decide (leadership),” the four-time Tour winner said. “For us it’s fantastic to have different cards to play.
“If you look at all the GC riders, ‘G’ is right up there. It’s for other teams to attack us now.”
Thomas added that it was speculative to discuss it before a single mountain stage.
“I think it’s a bit early to be talking about that,” said Thomas, who enjoyed four days in yellow at the start of last year’s Tour.
“Maybe if I’m still right there after Alpe d’Huez (on Thursday), it’s a bit different then. But we haven’t done a proper climb yet. I’m certainly not getting carried away.”
Asked if he had spoken to Froome about it, Thomas added: “We’ve kind of spoken in general about things. And yeah, he’s keen for me to try, if I do have the chance to stay up there. But we’re honest with each other.”
Froome is looking to make history as he seeks a record-equalling fifth Tour win, a fourth successive Grand Tour victory and becoming the first man to do the Giro-Tour double since Marco Pantani in 1998.
But Wiggins said that team principal Sir Dave Brailsford would be “in the ears” of both riders telling them they can win the Tour.
“Does Dave B come in and do his usual and be quite divisive and get in each other’s ear and kind of keep them both motivated for the same goal and there be a natural selection?” said Wiggins, who was angered by a perceived leadership threat from Froome in 2012.
“Dave will certainly be in both of their ears and be telling them they can both win it, as a way of motivating them, as a way of playing these cards deep into the race and let the natural selections come in to play.”
Wiggins added of Brailsford: “He’s quite self-serving. For him, it’s about the team winning, it’s not about the individuals or the characters.”
Brailsford did not speak to the media on Monday.
Riding as his domestique, Froome finished second to Wiggins in 2012, and memorably appeared to attack his team leader on stage 11 before sitting up and waiting for him – a moment interpreted as Froome showing he was strong enough to win on his own.
But Froome rejected any comparison between that race and this, saying: “It’s a totally different situation (to 2012).”
Thomas could feasibly be in yellow by Tuesday evening as stage 10 takes the peloton over four categorised climbs in 158.5km of racing between Annecy and Le Grand-Bornand, territory which does not suit Van Avermaet.
“We’ll see how these next few days go really,” said the 32-year-old, who is expected to sign a new three-year deal with the team. “There’s no point me doing anything unnecessary.”
There has been no shortage of drama in the first week of the Tour de France with sprint battles between young and old, struggles along the cobbles to Roubaix, Chris Froome yet to show his sharpness and Peter Sagan shining in the green jersey once again after two stage wins.
Here, we take a look at five key questions ahead of the second week of the race.
Who is in the battle for the yellow jersey?
Greg van Avermaet is in control of the yellow jersey, holding a 43-second lead over Geraint Thomas, but with the mountain stages of the Tour kicking into gear on Tuesday, the Belgian is likely to drop down the overall classifications.
Philippe Gilbert, Bob Jungels and Alejandro Valverde complete the top five, with defending champion Chris Froome sitting in eighth – 1 minute and 43 seconds behind van Avermaet.
At this early stage of the Tour, the General Classification is misleading with many of the riders set to suffer in the mountains this week, providing an opportunity for the likes of Thomas, Froome, Nairo Quintana, Vincenzo Nibali and Tom Dumoulin to show their true climbing potential.
With Thomas in a great overall position, Team Sky have two GC options as we gear up for a pivotal week of the Tour.
Is Froome primed for a fifth Tour de France title?
Froome is still the overwhelming favourite to lift a fifth title, however we have seen little signs of his sharpness yet on the relatively flat stages of the first week.
A crash on the opening stage in Fontenay-le-Comte could have been a lot worse, but there is no doubt that he will peak in time for the gruelling climbs over the next two weeks.
The 33-year-old is eighth in the GC, but his work really only starts from Tuesday when the Team Sky star tackles the tough route from Annecy to Le Grand-Bornand.
Sagan is the man but who are the new sprinters shining?
Coming into this year’s Tour, Peter Sagan had won the green jersey in five out of the last six Tours – and will most likely seal it for a sixth time later this month.
But Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish – with a mammoth 44 stage wins between them – were also expected to challenge the Slovakian but both have made little impact so far.
In their absence of form, Fernando Gaviria and Dylan Groenewegen have emerged as rising stars – with two stage wins each and the potential to be threats in the years to come.
Colombian Gaviria – at 23 – looks like a real gem to contend at future Grand Tours.
Will we see the cobble stages in future Tours?
A great watch for fans, but not for the peloton. Stage nine to Roubaix served the Tour too much risk of injury for the riders, with the demanding cobble sections of the route causing GC riders to suffer mechanical issues on the surface.
Froome, Thomas, Romain Bardet and Rigoberto Uran all suffered falls and loss of time during the stage, with GC contender Richie Porte forced to withdraw from the race due to a broken collar bone.
The Tour officials need to realise it’s a three-week, 21-stage race, not a one-stage race that places riders in often chaotic circumstances.
Implementing cobble sections into a stage is a step too far for future Tours, with only 50 per cent of the riders having little to no experience in navigating these dangerous conditions.
A definite review needs to conducted before the 2019 route is confirmed.
Is this the end of Mark Cavendish?
It sounds like a harsh thing to say that we are seeing signs of the demise of a man who has sprinted to 30 Tour de France stage wins.
But in truth, it has been a torrid week for the 33-year-old Manxman. His Dimension Data team isn’t firing and he looks to have lost that old edge we are so used to seeing light up Tour de France sprints.
There was signs of life in his legs in stage seven (10th) and stage eight (eighth) when he challenged for the win but faded in the final metres.
It is clear the ambition is still there, but with only 34 days of racing this year due to injury, his preparation for Le Tour hasn’t been ideal.
Every year he is a year older, so it is unlikely he will beat Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 stage wins with the emergence of younger, quicker riders likes Groenewegen, Gaviria and Caleb Ewan coming through.