But it was nothing but celebration at the team bus after the stage, with the team looking pleased with their day’s work.
After his performance today, Martin moves into third above his younger team-mate, and said it was always the plan for him to stay with the leaders even if Alaphilippe faltered.
“When it kicked off on the last climb I had to follow the best guys,” Martin said after the stage.
“We knew we had David [de la Cruz] there to look after Julian. Today showed just how strong the team is.”
Martin found himself distanced by a late counter-attack from Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and Sergio Henao (Team Sky), who set off in pursuit of eventual stage winner Richie Porte.
However, experience paid off for Martin as he paced the final kilometers perfectly, catching Henao with just a few hundred metres to go.
“Alberto and Sergio were really strong, but I knew I just had to do my own pace and get to the top as fast as I could.
“That strong final kilometers is sort of my speciality, and it really helped that I had Sergio to aim for.”
Martin eventually crossed the line in third place, 32 seconds behind stage winner Porte, but only 11 seconds behind Contador.
The slim margin to Contador means Martin leads the Spaniard by a single second going into Sunday’s final stage around Nice, and is 30 seconds off new yellow jersey Henao.
Still short of breath five minutes after crossing the line, and it was no surprise that Martin had his mind on recovery more than whether he could overhaul Henao’s overall lead and become the first Irishman to win Paris-Nice since Sean Kelly took the last of his seven wins in 1988.
“Today was so hard. Probably too hard for March! I’ll just have to see how I feel tomorrow.”