Still shaking with the effort of chasing the Colombian to the 2,215-metre summit, Martin explained that he’d treated the ascent as a time trial, riding at his own tempo with the aim of keeping Quintana within reach and then trying to catch him in the final kilometre.
“The altitude got me at the end. I think living at 2,800 metres probably helps him,” said Martin with a rueful smile.
“I planned to attack earlier. That’s why we put Darwin [Atapuma] and Kristijan [Durasek] in the break. I wanted to go on the Col d’Azet, but there was so much wind on those early climbs and you get so much help from being on the wheel that it just wasn’t worth it. I had good legs and thought I could do a good last climb,” said Martin, who decided to take advantage of Sky easing back on their tempo in the first kilometre of the Col de Portet.
“Nairo came with me and I think he wanted to ride together, but he just rode so hard at the bottom. I just wanted to ride at my own tempo, so I just turned it into a time trial.
“I was trying to keep him to 10-15 seconds and normally over the last 500 metres I can close that gap,” said the UAE team leader.
“But I had a bad kilometre between about four and three to go and he just managed to pull that gap out and I couldn’t close it in the end.”
Martin acknowledged Quintana was the better man on the day, but was still very satisfied with his effort.
“I’m really proud of how the team rode and how I rode as well,” Martin added. “It’s pretty special to get second in a mountain top finish like that and especially one where the strongest rider finished first. Being second strongest on the hardest mountain top finish of the Tour de France is pretty special.”
Martin, who revealed that his first experience of the Tour was as a spectator on the Col d’Azet during the Pla d’Adet stage of the 1999 race, said his whole race could have gone very differently if he hadn’t lost two-and-a-half minutes due to an untimely puncture and a crash late on in stage eight to Amiens.
“But then again you can never look back and I’m really proud of how I’ve managed to get this consistency over three weeks, to still be strong in the third week. To win in the first week and to almost win in the third week with a crash in the middle shows that I can handle three weeks of really hard racing in the Tour de France,” he said.