Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) won Liège-Bastogne-Liège today. It sounds strange but it is true. Thanks to steady progression and growing confidence he pulled off one of cycling's biggest one-day races - his dream race.
"I've always dreamed about winning this race," Martin said post-race in a press conference.
"Confidence, maturity, experience - shock, just total shock to win this. I knew I could win a race like Liège-Bastogne-Liège some day. ... It was such a massive opportunity to win Liège."
The 26-year-old progressed steadily in one-day racing. He won Italy's Tre Valli Varesine and the Japan Cup in 2010 and placed second in the Tour of Lombardy in 2011.
He felt confident heading into Liège, and he was right to do so. He won the Tour of Catalonia heading into the Ardennes Classics and finished just off the podium, fourth in Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday.
"My team was telling me all week that I could win this, even if we still have this underdog status," Martin continued. "We don't win very often but when we do it's very big."
Garmin-Sharp worked perfectly.
Ryder Hesjedal shot off with 16 kilometres to go. Martin marked his rivals and was at an advantage when his five-man group caught Hesjedal at 5.5km to race.
Hesjedal, last year's Giro d'Italia winner, went to work for Martin. He pulled the group to the final ramp to Ans. Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) fired like a missile, but Martin responded perfectly. Even better, he dropped the Spaniard to finish solo.
"When I saw Rodriguez attack, I knew had to go," Martin explained. "I thought I left it a bit late, but I was able to catch him. I didn't want to leave it as a sprint, so I was happy."
Hesjedal goes to Italy next to try to defend his Giro title. Martin takes a break, likely coming back for the Tour de France. Team DS Johnny Weltz told Cycling Weekly, "With a rider this good, it'd be a shame not to take him to the Tour."
For now, Martin, Ireland's second winner after Sean Kelly, is taking it all in.
"I can't believe it, it's fantastic, it's a dream," added Martin. "This is a race I've always dreamed of, and so early in my career."
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