Dan Martin was “obviously devastated” after crashing out of the Liege-Bastogne-Liege at the final corner but has vowed come back stronger.
Early in the season Garmin-Sharp looked a team going through a transitional period but Martin has helped strengthen a team that works hard on the road and the Irish rider has quickly become a talisman.
In the three Ardennes races older experienced riders such as Thomas Dekker and Fabian Wegmann and the younger riders in the team have thrived on the Martin's inspired leadership.
The Irishman entered the race as the defending champion and seemed set to repeat his excellent 2013 win after his good second-place finish in Fleche-Wallonne. And everything was going to plan as Martin rode into the final bend in a ideal position for the finish only to come crashing down.
“It’s one thing to make a mistake or know what you’ve done but we figure that there’s a patch of oil or something,” he said, according to Cyclingnews. “I think I had tears in my eyes before I even hit the floor. There aren’t really words for it. To race for seven hours and for that to happen on the last corner…. it’s poetry.”
Martin and his Garmin-Sharp teammates had ridden an impressive race up until that point. The main break had been reeled in and Nathan Haas had stayed close to the Irishman throughout.
The Garmin-Sharp leader seemed laboured on the penultimate climb but dug deep to stay in contention. When Katusha's Giampaolo Caruso and Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) lead by eight seconds on the final drag to the finish Martin made his move.
He caught Pozzovivo and placed himself perfectly on Caruso's back wheel before going into the final bend before the finish, less than 300 metres away.
That is when the Irishman slipped and could only watch as Simon Gerrans (Orica GreenEdge) defeated Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma – QuickStep) in what became a three-way sprint.
“I don’t know what was going on behind and I don’t know how close they were but all I know is that I was feeling good and pretty relaxed,” Martin said. “I was 250 meters from the finish and the podium was definitely on the cards. Maybe Gerrans would have caught me but there’s no way of knowing. That’s cycling.”
Martin managed to get himself back on his bike and eventually finished in 39th position. He went straight to the team bus where he received his teammates' support.
“Everyone was gutted but that’s normal. We said that we’d stand by our result today and we stand together,” he said. “They know we came so close and we’ll just have to come back next year and do the same thing again. We still had Tom Slagter in sixth place so it’s not a bad day for the team. It’s just a bit hard to take.”
Team Director Johnny Weltz was evidently emotional as he tried to come to grips with the dramatic finish.
“We had the race in our hands but then he’s just hit the ground,” Weltz said. “We held the race in our hands and then on the last corner.”
Thomas Dekker did much of Garmin – Sharp's groundwork in the early stages of the race helping to chase down the main breakaway. He was forced to abandon the race and watched the finish on the team bus. He was on hand to talk to Martin straight after the Irishman had made it home.
“He would have won Liege,” Dekker said. “To be in that condition, make it with the big group and control things by yourself and then crash, it’s probably the biggest disappointment of his career.”
The Liege-Bastogne-Liege concludes the Ardennes classics – the Amstel Gold Race, the Fleche Wallonne and the L-B-L - and the one-day classic season. The Irish rider will be slightly disappointed not to have won any of the Belgian races after wins for Philippe Gilbert, Alejandro Valverde and Simon Gerrans respectively.
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