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With a powerful surge on the final 1km ramp to the finish, Martin dropped all the pre-race favourites to win stage 3 of the Volta a Catalunya, putting two seconds into Contador, Bardet and van Garderen and taking the overall lead

Photo: Etixx-QuickStep / Tim De Waele

ALBERTO CONTADOR

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DANIEL MARTIN

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DECEUNINCK - QUICK-STEP

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ROMAIN BARDET

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VOLTA A CATALUNYA

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23.03.2016 @ 18:12 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Daniel Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) continued his love affair with the Volta a Catalunya by winning the hugely anticipated first battle in the mountains on stage 3 of the WorldTour race. Surging clear on the short 1km ramp to the finish, he made use of his puncheur qualities to put two seconds into Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), Romain Bardet (Ag2r) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC), claiming both the stage win and the overall lead. Chris Froome (Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) both lost ground in the finale.

 

The last few years have been difficult for Daniel Martin who has crashed whenever he has hit any kind of top form. Feeling that he needed a breath of fresh air, he decided to move to Etixx-QuickStep for the 2016 season.

 

Apparently, the change has done him a lot of good as he has been flying right from the start of the year. He already took a first win at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in early February but after he had fallen ill in Oman, his name had flown under the radar for this week’s Volta a Catalunya where a star-studded line-up makes it hard to get much attention.

 

A few days ago, Martin played down his chances but he has always been going well in Catalonia. Three years ago he won the race in his adopted home region and today he proved that he much stronger than he claimed at the start of the race by beating all the stars in the first mountain stage of the race.

 

The stage finished with an 11.1km climb to the finish in La Molina and the average gradient of 4.5% and short descent leading to a 1km ramp to the finish meant that it was a stage suited to puncheurs. This was perfect for Martin who is known as off the strongest in an uphill sprint.

 

At the bottom of the final climb, Pieter Weening (Roompot) had a 19-second advantage over a 50-rider peloton that was led by Ian Boswell and Ben Swift. The American quickly swung off and it was the Brit who set the pace on the lower slopes.

 

With 11km to go, Jarlinson Pantano (IAM) started the attacking and he got an immediate gap as Swift continued his pace-setting. However, the Colombian was quickly passed by Louis Vervaeke (Lotto Soudal) when the Belgian made his move just moments later. Meanwhile, Weening had again pushed the gap out to 23 seconds.

 

Pantano was picked up by the peloton which was still led by Swift while Vervaeke joined Weening with 9km to go. He took a short moment to recover on the Dutchman’s wheel and then took off in a solo move.

 

In the peloton, Mikel Nieve took over the pace-setting and he did some damage, reducing the gap to 10 seconds with 8km to go. He strung the group out but more than 30 riders were still in contention with 6km to go.

 

Vervaeke dug deep to maintain a 5-second advantage but as he entered the final 5km he started to lose ground. With 4.5km to go, it was over for the Belgian as Nieve continued to set a brutal pace.

 

As the 30-rider group approached the descent with 3km to go, there was a big fight for position and it was Alberto Contador who latched onto the wheel of Nieve, Wout Poels, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas who formed the Sky train. Nieve led the group to the bottom of the final 1.5km ramp to the finish.

 

Poels launched an immediate attack but Alberto Contador reacted immediately, followed by Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) but Nairo Quintana (Movistar) shut it down. Froome seemed to have a gear problem but was quickly back in the front positions.

 

Quintana was the next to try but when Zakarin reacted, the pace went down. This opened the door for Richie Porte (BMC) to make a move as they passed the flamme rouge. Froome, Zakarin, Contador, Quintana and Thomas joined the move but when Porte looked back and realized that he had company, the pace went down.

 

Porte tried again but it was Quintana who made a big attack. Froome tried to close it down but the Brit suddenly exploded and it looked like the Colombian was getting clear.

 

This was when Martin made his move. The Irishman sprinted past Quintana who faded dramatically. Van Garderen and Contador took off in pursuit and when the American lost speed, the Spaniard surged clear.

 

Contador was doing his best to rejoin Martin but failed to get any closer. Further back, Romain Bardet had passed van Garderen and the pair managed to latch onto Contador’s wheel when the Spaniard crossed the line 2 seconds behind Martin. Quintana crossed the line in 5th with a time loss of 9 seconds and Froome was three seconds further adrift.

 

With the win, Martin takes the overall lead with a 6-second advantage over Contador. He will try to defend his position in tomorrow’s queen stage which is a much harder affair. After a category 3 climb right from the start, the terrain is flat until the riders tackle the category HC Port de Canto after the midpoint. Then there’s another category 1 climb before the riders hit the final mountain of Port Ain’e which averages 6.8% over 18.5km.

 

The first mountain stage

After two days with flat finishes, it was time to head into the Pyrenees on stage 3 which brought the riders over 172.1km from Girona to a mountaintop finish at La Molina. After a flat start, the riders tackled an early category 1 climb but it was the second half that did the damage. First the riders tackled the Alt de Toses and then passed close by the finish on the descent. From here they did two laps of a finishing circuit that consisted of a descent and the climb to La Molina. The final time the riders went all the way to the top of the 11.1km climb that averaged 4.5% and had a maximum off 7%.

 

It was beautiful sunny weather when 186 riders gathered for the start in Girona. Julian Arredondo (Trek) who has pain in his Achilles tendon, and Omar Fraile (Caja Rural) who is ill, were both absent as they embarked on the journey towards the Pyrenees.

 

Six riders get clear

As is often the case in big mountain stages, the start was fast as most teams wanted to have a rider the breakaway. No one had escaped after 10 km, but moments later Julian Alaphilippe (Team Quick Step), Koen Bouwman (LottoNL-Jumbo), Kevin Reza (FDJ), Johann van Zyl (Dimension Data) and Jan Hirt (CCC) managed to build an advantage of 15 seconds. When it had grown to 39 seconds, Huub Duijn (Roompot) bridged the gap while Alex Howes (Cannondale) tried to do the same. At this point, he was 19 seconds behind but while the field took a breather and let the gap grow to 2 minutes, the American had a hard time and had to see the gap grow to 35 seconds.

 

The break decided to wait for Howes who made the junction joined after about 20km of racing. Hence, a 7-rider group was established and they quickly built a gap of 8 minutes. The peloton was by no means in a hurry and after 30km of racing, it had suddenly grown to an enormous 12 minutes

 

Movistar take control

Sky slowly started to chase while Bouwman beat Duyn and Reza in the first intermediate sprint. As they approached the day's first climb, it was Movistar's Imanol Erviti who had taken over the pace-setting and five kilometers from the bottom, he had reduced the gap to 10 minutes. At the same time, Guillaume Bonnafond (Ag2r) went down but he was soon back on the bike.

 

At the bottom of the climb, the gap was down to 9.30, and when Duyn beat van Zyl and Alaphilippe in KOM sprint, it was only 7.30. The climb was hard for Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) who suffers from  stomach problems, and he was already five minutes behind. Adrien Niyonshuti (Dimension Data) had it even worse and left the race.

 

Bouhanni abandons

Bouwman beat Reza and van Zyl in the day's first intermediate sprint where Bouhanni passed 7.05 behind the peloton which was 6.10 behind the front group. It didn’t take long for the French sprinter to throw in the towel and leave the race.

 

Movistar were still in charge and kept the gap relatively stable for some time. With 75 km to go, it was reduced to 5.35 and the Spanish team again upped the pace. It was only 4.30 as they approached the bottom of the Alt de Toses.

 

Movistar ride hard

As they started to climb, the gap was only 4.10 after a slow start with an average speed of just 35.7km/h. However, the day had taken its toll on Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) and Bonnafond who both abandoned.

 

Sky took control and got some assistance from Sky to reduce the gap to 3 minutes before Movistar again took over. Marc Soler worked hard to bring it down to 2.10 at the top of the climb.

 

The break splits up

The escapees battled for the KOM points and it was Duijn who attacked from afar to win the sprint. Howes joined just after the line and was keen to continue the move.

 

Howes and Duijn quickly put 45 seconds into their former companions while Soler still set the pace in the peloton which was only 1.50 behind with 45km to go. However, he didn’t get much help and so the gap again went out to 2.10 ten kilometres later when they hit the bottom of the final climb for the first time.

 

Weening takes off

The chasers were now getting organized and had brought the gap down to 20 seconds as they hit the ascent. Van Zyl and Hirt proved to be the strongest and left their companions behind.

 

With 34km to go, Weening took off and he quickly passed all the chasers who were picked up by the peloton in which Sky had upped the pace with a very strong Swift setting the pace for the entire climb. The Dutchman joined the leaders two kilometres later and then made use of Duijn who emptied himself for his captain, distancing Howes in the process.

 

Weening passes the front duo

Duijn swung off and left it to Weening to continue alone. The Dutchman was now 40 seconds ahead of the peloton and while Duijn and Howes were brought back, he pushed the gap out to 1.00 with 30km to go.

 

As they approached the summit, Jordi Simon (Verva) attacked from the peloton and he reached the top 1.05 behind Weening. Swift led the bunch to the summit and then traded pulls with Boswell on the descent.

 

The Sky train caught Simon with 18km to go and slowly started to approach Weening. As they hit the final climb, they were just 20 seconds behind. Boswell swung off and left it to Swift to set up his Sky leaders but it was Martin who came out on top.

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