The sport’s grandest stage was resplendently lit up by the team, who ascended to the top of the charts in the mountains while also leaving a gargantuan impression on the sprinting stakes too.
Dan Martin claimed eighth place overall in the General Classification and a stage win, while Alexander Kristoff proved why he’s the European road race champion, having the final say on the Champs Elysees as he won the final Stage 21.
It was the perfect ending in Paris for a team established less than two years ago.
And after a making a dent in their inaugural UCI WorldTour campaign – South African rider Louis Meintjes’ eighth place at Le Tour a year ago and Rui Costa claiming the 2017 Abu Dhabi Tour title in the race’s debut as a WorldTour spectacle notable highlights – the team have put more miles on the pedals again in 2018.
The additions of Martin and Kristoff were made with an eye on further improvements. And both men are already beginning to pay back the trust shown in them handsomely.
Martin finished off the podium but clambered onto it nonetheless in Paris after he won the Combativity award, given for aggressive riding.
Martin seemed shocked, but was happy to be on the podium – something he had been secretly aiming for all along, even though he wanted to be there in a GC capacity.
“I didn’t really say much about it in the media,” said the 31-year-old Irishman. “With the misfortune and the crashes, it didn’t happen but that’s huge. It really means a lot.”
Miracle man Martin made history for the team with his Stage 6 victory their first one at the Tour. Two stages later though he was involved in a nasty crash that almost took him out of the race altogether.
He finished 27 minutes behind the winner, which bumped him down to 24th overall, with Martin downplaying the seriousness of a back injury he sustained, although he described his back as “looking like a pizza” afterwards.
He soldiered on and somehow climbed back into contention and the top 10 just two days later thanks to finishes of seventh and sixth on the next two stages.
It was certainly a sweet ending for Kristoff, who earned his third Tour stage win and first for four years.
The Norwegian must have been cursing his luck following a host of near misses this month. He notched two second place finishes and a third as well as being involved in the climax of six more, but finally got his dream win at the death.
Kristoff was hard on himself after the race when he said ‘to win a stage of the Tour more or less saves my season’, as his team will feel he’s been a revelation since his arrival.
The most beautiful podium in cycling. Always a special day in the season made even better by the privilege of most combative rider of the Tour de France. Thankyou pic.twitter.com/ttGDwQgRh8— Dan Martin (@DanMartin86) 29 July 2018
But the 31-year-old has high expectations. “I’ve only had four victories up until now and this was my fifth. It’s less than I usually have at this time of the year but to win at the Tour de France makes my season more or less a success now so I’m very glad to win.” That inner drive bodes well for both rider and team.
All this, and we haven’t even mentioned Fabio Aru – the 2015 Vuelta a Espana champion and Giro d’Italia runner-up.
He is undoubtedly the team’s star turn, or should be. But he has endured a difficult start to life in his new jersey.
His talent, however, is unquestionable, and team management will be dreaming of what new ground can be broken if he returns to his very best, alongside the fully firing Martin and Kristoff.
For now, team manager Carlo Saronni and project puppeteer Mauro Gianetti should be elated that the work, effort and time being injected into the new venture is bearing fruit.
But knowing the two men – for whom cycling courses through their veins – they are dreaming of taking UAE Team Emirates to even greater heights.
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