BARCELONA, March 24 (Reuters) – After two runners-up spots and a fourth place, Ireland’s Daniel Martin finally netted the overall classification of the Tour of Catalunya, Spain’s second biggest bike race.
The 26-year-old Garmin-Sharp rider finished safely in 42nd spot in the main pack on Sunday after a fast seventh stage featuring eight hilly circuits of the Montjuic park in Barcelona.
“Winning here in Catalunya is very special, it’s my home” Martin, who has lived in the Catalan town of Girona for the last five years, told reporters.
“This is my most special victory ever and I think I’m going stronger than ever before. The key to the win has been (Giro 2012 winner and team mate) Ryder Hesjedal for his hard work in the break to Port Aine and in fact the whole team has done a lot of great work on each stage.”
Second overall was Spain’s Joaquim Rodríguez, 17 seconds behind. Italian Michele Scarponi was third and 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins fifth.
The final stage was won by Belgium’s Thomas De Gendt ahead of Spain’s David Lopez and Croatian Robert Kiserlovski after a four-man break sheered away with four laps remaining.
After early race leader Alejandro Valverde of Spain crashed out on stage three, Martin seized the top spot overall after he concluded a day long 150 kilometre break of 25 riders on Thursday’s stage four with a spectacular lone victory at Port Aine in the Pyrenees.
Just 10 seconds ahead of Rodriguez overall, Martin then widened his gap to almost twice that by taking bonus seconds on offer in mid-race sprints on stages five and six.
The Spaniard made dangerous attacks on stage seven’s multiple ascents of Montjuic, but Martin stayed glued to Rodríguez’s back wheel to claim his biggest stage race win since the Tour of Poland in 2010.
Among his rivals, Martin highlighted Rodriguez as the most tenacious.
“We’ve had to defend ourselves from a lot of different attacks. Right up until the last lap we had to suffer and Rodriguez made several really difficult moves,” the Irishman said.
Asked what his next objective will be, Martin joked: “To go out this night to celebrate it all. No seriously, it’s the Ardennes Classics (in Belgium in April) where I want to make the most of my good form.”