Dan Martin sits just 72 seconds off the lead of the Tour de France, but the Irishman could hardly be more relaxed as he insists it is just another bike race.
Martin has been one of the revelations of this year’s Tour and will go into the final week sitting in fifth place, with the battle for the yellow jersey closer than it has ever been at this stage in the race’s history.
But as the Quick-Step Floors rider fights it out with three-time winner Chris Froome, Fabio Aru, Romain Bardet and Rigoberto Uran – who are separated by just 29 seconds at the top of the general classification – Martin is not feeling any pressure.
“I just keep enjoying myself,” he said on Monday’s rest day. “I think you can see I’m very relaxed around the race and in the race. Everybody sees the Tour as this huge thing but it’s still only a bike race.
“Separating yourself from the enormity of what it is possible to achieve in the next few days is important because we’re all human, we all have two wheels and we all have a mountain to get over.”
Martin appears to be in the form of his life, and that is despite the fact he is still suffering the effects of a major crash on the Mont du Chat during stage nine.
More than a week on, Martin’s back muscles remain in spasm, requiring daily treatment, but he is optimistic he can be back to 100 per cent by the time the race heads into the Alps on Wednesday and Thursday.
Not that it has been easy to tell he is injured.
Martin snatched back time on his general classification rivals on Friday’s stage 13 into Foix and stage 15 to Le Puy-en-Velay on Sunday, spotting late opportunities and making them pay.
“There’s a bit of bluffing going on with the four riders who are really close on GC and that’s allowed me to come back into the frame,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I’ve been stronger, I’ve just been taking advantage.”
The crash on the Mont du Chat cost Martin 75 seconds on the day. It is too simplistic to say it is the difference between him and the yellow jersey given the way the race has played out since then, but it is clear the 30-year-old is now a serious contender, even if you cannot tell from his relaxed demeanor.
Racing for a team that is built more around sprinter Marcel Kittel – who has delivered five stage wins already – Martin is happy to operate as a free agent, spared the burdens of team leadership and expectation.
“I never set objectives and I never set out my ambitions,” he said. “People say my life is going to change (if I win). My life is not going to change if I win the Tour de France. I don’t need to win the Tour de France.
“It would be nice, but at the end of the day I’m just going to do my best. If my best is better than the other guys I’ll win. If it’s not, they were better than me. All I can do is my best and as long as that happens I’ll be happy.”