MUR DE BRETAGNE, France (Reuters) - After two seasons spent in a sprint-oriented outfit, Dan Martin is maturing into a team leader with overall ambitions for the Tour de France.
The diminutive Irishman joined Team UAE Emirates during the close season, leaving Quick Step, whose biggest aim on the Tour is to win stages and where he was never the only leader on the biggest stage race in the world.
After struggling to adapt to his new position in the first part of the season, Martin delivered on Thursday as he won the sixth stage of the Tour and stayed in the mix in the general classification.
He lies 23rd overall, one minute 27 seconds behind Greg van Avermaet but only 25 seconds adrift of defending champion Chris Froome.
Last year, Martin finished sixth overall, his best result on the Tour, despite not benefiting from the full protection of his team.
“I took on a new role as a team leader. Before, I was riding for GC (general classification) but I was not the team leader,” Martin, one of very few riders to trust their instinct on the bike rather than just rely on tactics, told a news conference.
It took Martin some time to adjust. He abandoned the Paris-Nice stage race in March and was disappointing at the Tour of Catalunya, before looking unimpressive at the Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, two one-day classics he used to shine on.
“I was adapting to this role, that’s why I did not have a good start to the season,” he explained.
“But I’ve been better in the last few weeks and especially on this race. There is a very special atmosphere in this team. We put very little pressure on ourselves and we are racing well.”
At Team UAE Emirates, Martin is working with sports director Philippe Mauduit, who is widely regarded as one of the most talented on the circuit.
“I took a step back and realised that if my attitude would change it would reflect on the whole team,” said Martin, who geared up nicely for the Tour by taking fourth place overall at the Criterium du Dauphine last month.
With a stage win in the bag, Martin believes the team will now be even more relaxed.
“I love riding my bike, I also love racing my bike, I have a racing instinct, I can feel the right moment to attack,” he said.
“I race best when I’m happy and relaxed, and that translates into a very relaxed team vibe.”
Reporting by Julien Pretot, Editing by Clare Lovell