Dan Martin, the 21-year-old Irish rider, has won the Route du Sud ? his first professional victory in his debut season.

The Slipstream rider, who was Britain’s national junior road race champion in 2004, before opting to race for Ireland, defended the overall lead he gained at the end of Saturday’s stage in the Pyrenees.

The fourth and final stage was a 180-kilometre leg from Saint Gaudens to Castres, won by Finland’s Jussi Veikkanen (Francaise des Jeux).

Britain’s Jeremy Hunt (Crédit Agricole) was in a break that got clear of the bunch and took eighth place on the stage. Hunt’s aggressive ride should seal him a place in Crédit Agricole’s Tour de France team, where he will work for the sprinter Thor Hushovd.

Martin finished safely in the bunch, which was 6-50 down on the winner, in the same time as overall runner-up Christophe Moreau.

He said: “My team did everything to make sure I kept the jersey today. There were some difficult roads and they kept me in position and made sure nothing dangerous got away.”

Martin’s uncle, Stephen Roche, caused a sensation when he won Paris-Nice as a first-year professional in 1981.

Cycling has changed a lot since then. The strength in depth in the big races makes it very unlikely a young rider can come straight in and win a race of Paris-Nice’s stature at the first attempt. But considering the landscape of professional cycling today, Martin’s win is almost as impressive.

He’s 21, he’s a superb climber and he’s in a team that will nurture that talent intelligently and sensitively. As Jonathan Vaughters, the Slipstream directeur sportif who himself won the Route du Sud in 1999, said: “He’s got a great career ahead of him.”

Martin took his chance by getting in the big break on the first stage of the race, time trialling well in the uphill test on the second day and then taking over the lead on Saturday, in a mountain stage that took in some of the fiercest climbs the Pyrenees has to offer.

Stage four: Saint Gaudens ? Castres

1. Jussi Veikkanen (Fin) Française des Jeux 180km in 5-07-46

2. Nicolas Jalabert (Fra) Agritubel at 1sec

3. Troncoso Ramon (Spa) Karpin Galicia same time

8. Jeremy Hunt (GB) Crédit Agricole at 36sec

46. Daniel Martin (Ire) Slipstream-Chipotle at 6-50

Route du Sud final overall classification

1. Daniel Martin (Ire) Slipstream-Chipotle in 16-44-21

2. Christophe Moreau (Fra) Agritubel at 1-42

3. Luca Pierfelici (Ita) Acqua & Sapone at 2-58

4. Simon Gerrans (Aus) Crédit Agricole at 2-59

5. Jérémy Roy (Fra) Française des Jeux at 7-37

45. Jeremy Hunt (GB) Crédit Agricole at 1-08-55

RELATED LINKS

Dan Martin: How I took Route du Sud lead

Feature: CW spent a day with Dan Martin and his club, CC Giro, during the winter