Martin won alone atop the Sega di Ala climb on stage 17 of the Giro d'Italia as behind him Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) suffered on the steep climb and lost 53 seconds to Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange), offering a glimmer of hope for his competitors to reopen the fight for the maglia rosa and final overall victory in Milan.
With the victory, Martin completed a set of Grand Tour stage wins, the Giro stage win joining his dual stage successes at the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana.
The Irishman had to fight hard for this victory, going in the early break down the valley from Canazei, then distancing most of the early break on the first major climb before surging away on the steep climb to Sega di Ala. Throughout the stage, there was a strong chase from INEOS Grenadiers and Team BikeExchange, but despite it looking at stages that Martin had little chance, he put in a great final climb to take the win.
"I think the shake of the head at the end says I couldn't believe it's happening - I still can't believe it's happening," said Martin. “That's what I came here for. I knew that today was one of my last opportunities and with the extra time I lost the day before the rest day it was possible to go in the breakaway. To do it is incredible."
Martin has had an up and down 2021 Giro d'Italia, at times climbing with the best, at other moments struggling and losing major time, the reason that he sits 13 minutes and 37 seconds behind Bernal on the general classification. However, after having few expectations of personal performance coming into the race a GC bid and a stage win could be considered a good result from what has been a tough race for him and Israel Start-Up Nation at times.
“It's been a rollercoaster us as a team - we lost Krists (Neilands) on the first day, we some really good stages, we had a lot of podiums and then we lost Dema (Alessandro De Marchi) - he was in the pink and then he crashed out and Alex got sick," said Martin. “But our spirit has always been amazing. We've had a great team atmosphere. That showed this morning.
“I knew from recon I did of this climb that it's easier with two kilometres to go, so I rode my pace on the steeper section, just rode a good tempo and then I really went full gas with 2.5km to go because I knew they were coming close and I could kill their morale. It wasn't until then I really went all in.”
Behind Martin, there was a fierce fight for the pink jersey, with no doubt some thought of overhauling Martin for the stage win as well, with a tempo being set by INEOS Grenadiers on the final slopes. Bernal showed his first signs of weakness in the whole race, having no response when Yates attacked with three kilometres to go.
The Colombian looked to teammate Dani Martinez, and even struggled to hold his wheel at times as Yates and João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep) rode away from them.
Fortunately for Bernal, it was a worse day for many other pre-race favourites as Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) and Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) showed signs of fatigue and lost a minute and 48 seconds and two and a half minutes respectively. Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious), who remained second overall with another consistent ride, was only able to gain three seconds on Bernal in the final metres of the stage.
Bernal lost 53 seconds to Yates, bringing his lead to the British Vuelta winner down to three minutes and 23 seconds, though Caruso is just two minutes and 21 seconds behind the Colombian.
“Yates was really strong and impressed on the climb. I tried to go after him but I made a mistake,” said Bernal. “But I’m satisfied. It wasn’t my best day but I hardly lost any time, just a few seconds to Caruso, who is the one I've got to watch the most. Yates has pulled back a minute and so we’ve got to keep our feet on the ground and stay focused on reaching Milan.
Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) was involved in a major crash on a descent and lost just shy of eight minutes, while teammate Vincenzo Nibali lost a further 24 minutes and was unable to hold his handlebars with his right arm after the stage. Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) abandoned the race after the same incident crashing into the barrier and regaining his feet only to be crashed into by another rider coming onto the scene late.
The Giro d'Italia continues tonight with Stage 18 and another summit finish on a shortened stage to Alpe di Mera. Watch the race from 1925 AEST on SBSOnDemand with coverage starting from 2120 on SBS VICELAND.