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Ireland’s Dan Martin will start the Giro d’Italia on Friday gunning for a top performance in the first edition of the race to start outside the European mainland. Cheered on by home fans, he has three goals in the event; the first is to take the pink jersey in the team time trial, although he admits that the all-round composition of his Garmin-Sharp team compared to the TTT-specializing squads makes that a difficult ask.
Secondly, he will aim for a stage win in the race. If he achieves that goal, the result combined with his Vuelta a España and Tour de France successes will see him join a very select group of riders who have taken stage victories in each of the Grand Tours.
His third aim is to clock up a high overall finish in the race, particularly if he can be in the fight for the Maglia Rosa.
Martin spoke at length to Cycling Tips last week as the countdown to the Giro continued; he speaks below about the race and his thoughts, and also gives a detailed response to his near miss in Liège-Bastogne-Liège a week and a half ago.
He had looked set to take a rare second consecutive victory, but instead crashed out on the final corner and missed the chance. Surprisingly, his response was a very philosophical one and shows his balanced approach to the sport.
Cycling Tips: Are you pleased with the buildup to the Giro?
Dan Martin: Obviously it was not ideal crashing in Liège. I had a bit of a sore ankle in the last few weeks. I am taking a few days off the bike now to really rest it. Last week it was niggling, but the staff were doing an incredible job to keep it okay. On each of the race days it would get back to 100 percent, but after the race on Sunday, I woke up Monday and my ankle was really sore. It is not something which stops me from training, but it is just something that is not quite 100 percent.
I needed to take a really easy week anyway with my training. I did Tirreno, Catalunya and then went directly to altitude and did two weeks hard training there, then onto the Ardennes. I wasn’t feeling too fresh last week…I wasn’t tired, but I didn’t really feel great. I was never really on top of it. This week it is all about really freshening up the body.
The head is really good. I’m definitely ready for the Giro, I just need to really rest it out. We can get in some team time trial practice, and we will be ready.
CT: What are your thoughts on racing in Ireland?
DM: I don’t think it has really sunk in yet, that I am going to be racing next week in Ireland. It is pretty crazy and I am excited to see the welcome. I am seeing stories about the team presentation ticket sales and the routes being lined with pink; it is going to be an incredible few days.
I am pretty sure that the majority of the pro peloton are going to be coming back to Ireland on holiday in the next few months. The county is going to put on a fantastic show and it will really be a fantastic advertisement for it.
CT: Obviously Garmin Sharp has done well in team time trials in the past. What do you think the chances of the team winning pink and you being in the Maglia Rosa?
DM: I think the sport is becoming more difficult now, in that obviously we are aiming for a strong general classification. To that extent we have got some climbers to help me in the mountains. We have definitely got a very all round team.
I know for one that both Quick Step and GreenEdge are solely aiming for the team time trial. To be honest, I am not too optimistic about winning the team time trial and wearing pink in Ireland. I think it is going to be very, very difficult. But you never know what is going to happen; thee could be bad luck for others, good luck for us or whatnot.
Obviously we are one of the strongest GC teams for sure, and I have no doubt that the guys are going to put me in a really strong position for the general classification. But at the end of the day it is a three week race and the pink jersey in Treviso is the one that matters. Even though it would be fantastic to wear it in Ireland, I think the fact that the race is just starting in Ireland will hopefully catch the public’s imagination and the whole country will be following me and Nicolas and Philip all the way to the finish.
CT: Nicolas Roche and Philip Deignan are both with teams that have ridden well in team time trials in the past; do you think either of them could end up in pink?
DM: I don’t know what team they have selected. I think that is the thing. It is okay being in squads that are strong at team time trials, but it is not the whole squad that is strong. If every team put their best team time trial squad in, it is a different story. Obviously it is a three week race so we are all going to have a different combination of riders in it.
The same goes for Quick Step and GreenEdge and the other strong team time trial teams – it all depends on who is in the squad on the day and if all those guys have a good day as well. I think the margins in pro cycling now are so minute that a good day or a bad day can decide a race, and any tactical error or bad luck during a race can also decide it. Anything can happen and we cannot rule out any of us being in pink on the first day in Belfast.
CT: Do you think Nicolas is another guy for the overall?
DM: Yeah, for sure. He has obviously performed a lot better than I have in three week races before. He has got a lot more experience riding general classification than me. Obviously riding so well in the Vuelta gave him a massive confidence boost last year and made him believe again that he can podium in a Grand Tour.
It is fantastic to have three Irish riders starting the race thinking of the final podium. That is pretty incredible. For sure Nicolas has got a strong team behind him and he seems to have settled into Saxo Bank as well. I think their training and the atmosphere fits in with him. He seems to be going really good there, and hopefully he can have a really good race as well.
CT: What do you think will be the key stages?
DM: I haven’t really looked at it, to be honest! I don’t think you can look at it as any key stage as you can lose the race on a stage that doesn’t look important. Any day it can happen that you lose the bike race, and so I think you just need to take it day by day and focus on each individual stage.
CT: You have won stages in the Tour and Vuelta, so is a stage win in the Giro one of your big goals?
DM: Yes, for sure. The form I have had in the past week or so is definitely suited to winning stages. I don’t know how my climbing is on long mountains this year as I haven’t done much of it, I haven’t done much training for that, to be honest, but as far as my punchy style is, it is definitely suited to win stages.
To complete the hattrick of Grand Tour stages so early in my career would be unbelievable. It is definitely an aim going into the race to win a stage. Afterwards the general classification comes with consistent stage finishes. Hopefully I can be there or there abouts on the stages and the general classification will follow.
But the aim going into the race is definitely to win a stage. I did it before and I have no doubt that I can do it again this May.
CT: Is the podium also something that is an aspiration?
DM: Yes, we are starting the race with that in the back of our minds. But obviously it is a long race so you don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself. There are a lot of really strong riders aiming for that podium this year as well. But I think I am capable of running top five, maybe even the podium in the race. If everything goes well, who knows how far we can go in GC.
CT: Obviously the Tour comes after the Giro. Is there a decision made yet as to the Tour, or will you make that decision later?
DM: I think I have to look after the Giro finishes, see how I am feeling. It completely depends on how the Giro goes. If I don’t finish the Giro for any reason, it might a chance to go to the Tour. If I finish the Giro and finish well up in the general classification, the amount psychologically and physically it takes out of you, it would be silly to go to the Tour.
If I ride well in GC and finish well in the Giro, I wouldn’t expect to be at the Tour. You don’t know what is going to happen. We will see.
CT: In that case, would you do the Vuelta instead?
DM: Yeah, exactly.
ON HIS NEAR MISS IN LIÈGE-BASTOGNE-LIÈGE:
CT: What is your reaction to Liege?
DM: What can you say? It happened. Some people are a bit surprised about how relaxed I am…definitely in the last couple of days, they are asking me if I am not upset. There is no point in being upset, it happened and I can’t change it. It is just really bad luck. I’ve had a lot of good luck in my career and this has just happened.
The most important thing to me is I didn’t touch a pedal down…people have said that is what happened but it was nothing mechanical. There wasn’t even a mark on the pedal. It was purely that there was an oil slick on the road, on the corner. The organisers had done their best to clean it up but obviously not enough.
Unfortunately my front wheel found it. I hit the road pretty hard. I am pretty banged up at the moment to be honest, but I’ll come good. I was obviously pretty emotional at the end of a race like that, you are in such a state of fatigue anyway. Then it is not exactly ideal to come to a sudden stop and hit the road like a ton of bricks.
I felt more sorry for the team, to be honest. They rode their hearts out all day, they rode a fantastic race. We went so close to doing a historic double. Obviously there is no way of knowing if the others were going to catch me before the finish line, but I was definitely in a really good position.
I was still feeling okay…I had been able to take it easy into the corner as I caught Caruso. I don’t think he even knew I was there. He was going to go full gas to the finish line and give me an armchair ride. I was ready to sprint. I don’t think there is any doubt that at the very least I could have been on the podium. But there are no ifs, there is no point in dwelling on it. I will just move on.
CT: Is the hardest part not knowing what could have happened?
DM: I think with this sport, you kind of learn to not even think of it. I haven’t really asked myself that question. I am completely at peace with it. It is only a bike race, at the end of the day, even though it was an important one and an amazing one. I think I would be a lot more upset if I hadn’t won last year, or if it happened last year.
At the same time, it could have been a lot worse. I could have broken my collarbone or whatever and been out of the Giro. At least now we can move on and we can look forward to bigger things.
CT: How did you feel in the race?
DM: I felt okay. I didn’t have a fantastic day but I definitely wasn’t bad. Coming into that last climb…I almost got dropped on Faucons [the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons – ed], I kind of got tailed off a little bit and just made it back on after the top. That is why I was riding such a conservative race and trying to save as much energy as possible for the final push to the line. On every climb I was doing the minimum to try to save as much energy as possible.
I didn’t have the same legs as last year. I was just conserving, conserving, just doing the minimum to be with the front group on each climb. I am very proud of how I rode. I think we rode nearly a perfect race as a team and myself personally as well. I made a good move in the final that almost paid off, but it wasn’t meant to be.
CT: It looked like a real game of poker as when moves were going, you were down the back but then gave it everything on the last climb. Were you fairly confident that it would stay together until then, or was it a gamble to ride the way that you did it?
DM: It was actually a gamble, because I knew I had one chance to win the race. I wasn’t thinking about getting seventh or tenth or whatever; I was only thinking about winning. And the only way for me to win that race n Sunday was to save everything for one attack.
I knew the gap to the front two guys was a bit big, and that is why I went so early. You can see that I don’t have great legs as I kind of blew straight away. I attacked and just stopped – If I had good legs, I could have kept pushing. But as I said, I’m proud with how I rode.
I was also staying out of eyesight, I wanted everyone to forget about me. To underestimate me – out of sight, out of mind. I think I rode well.
CT: I think what was really interesting is when you attacked, they nearly got you back, then you appeared to surge again and rode away from them a second time. It was like you had two jumps in you…
DM: I realised how close it was to the finish. I got into a rhythm, then I realised I really had to catch those guys before the corner. That is why I put that last sprint in to get up to them before the corner.
CT: You seem remarkably balanced about what happened…
DM: My team-mates definitely helped a lot. But it is definitely a case that it wouldn’t have changed my life if I had won again. I am fortunate enough to have won a lot of races already…it is just bad luck. It might change a few people’s lives, though, because I think a lot of people had money on me!