Dan Martin: Embracing the role of team leader with new Cannondale-Garmin squad

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The new colours and line-up of the Cannondale-Garmin squad were unveiled at the team launch in New York on Wednesday, with the amalgamated Garmin-Sharp and Cannondale outfits coming together to form a squad which has great potential for 2015. One of the leaders will be Irishman Dan Martin, who finished seventh in the Vuelta a España, won Il Lombardia and took second overall in the 2014 Tour of Beijing. Martin spoke at length to CyclingTips recently about a number of subjects, including the 2015 Tour, Classic goals, an adjusted approach to the season and more.

If 2014 was all about the Giro d’Italia and then recovering from the disappointment of crashing out on day one of that race, 2015 will be a year of much more general targets for Dan Martin.

The Cannondale-Garmin rider is eschewing an approach targeting a few select events and instead intends being good early on and trying to rack up results in a wide number of races. To heck with holding back; having learned last year that things can go up in smoke instantaneously due to bad luck, he wants to win early and win often.

“I will probably follow a pretty similar programme to 2013,” said Martin, talking about a return to his previous style of racing.

“The Ardennes is a big focus each year. I need to talk to the team more about it, work out a programme, then hopefully do Tirreno, Catalunya and that kind of thing, then the Ardennes and build up to the Tour.

“Those are the goals that I have in mind at the moment.

“Obviously I followed the same kind of programme last year but in aiming for the Giro, I was trying to hold myself back in Tirreno and Cataluna, not wanting to peak too early. I’m really looking forward to just being able to go out into the first races and just floor it from the start.”

Martin had two reasons for his lazer-like focus on the Giro in 2014.

The first was a consequence of aiming for the general classification and wanting to enter that race with enough reserves to be consistent throughout. The second was down to the location of the first three stages. Starting in Belfast and gradually working its way south to Dublin, the Giro was being held on Irish soil for the first time ever.

While Martin was born in Birmingham and grew up in the British city, his mother is Irish and he had a long history of spending time in that country. He declared for Ireland several years ago and has said he most identifies with that nationality.

Because of that, he realised that he had a once in a lifetime chance to shine on home soil in the Giro and wanted to make the most of that opportunity.

The gods of fate decreed otherwise, though, and in the split second it took for his front wheel to skitter sideways on a wet manhole cover during the stage one team time trial, three things disintegrated. The first was the Garmin-Sharp train, the second his chances of doing anything in the race and the third, his collarbone.

The fracture represented the first bone he had broken in his many years racing a bike and ensured that he was sidelined for several weeks, missing key races and ultimately passing over the chance to ride the Tour de France.

Martin admitted afterwards that his morale was through the floor, but he spent time with his girlfriend Jess and both his collarbone and his motivation regenerated over time.

He recovered to clock up three top eight finishes in the Tour of Austria, plus take second and third on stages as well third overall in the Tour de l’Ain.

He then went on to the Vuelta a España where he landed seven top ten stage finishes – including going agonisingly close to a stage win on day three – plus a fine seventh overall.

Better again, he won Il Lombardia with an audacious and opportunistic final kilometre attack, a cheeky surge which took the other riders in the lead group by surprise and netted the second Classic victory of his career.

The momentum continued in the Tour of Beijing where he won stage four and placed second overall, with these combined results putting him ninth overall in the WorldTour.

Not bad for someone who missed some of the most important weeks of the season due to his injury.

Given his stage race ability plus the physical and tactical strengths which enable him to win hilly one day races, Martin is clearly the type of rider who could one day win the WorldTour overall. His team CEO Jonathan Vaughters has also said as much, basing that assertion on both his 2014 final placing and also his ninth overall in 2011 and sixth in 2013.

Martin is aware of Vaughters’ opinion, but also doesn’t want to specifically focus on this goal.

“I’m not really sure it’s something you actually aim for,” he explains. “I think it is something that you just…you try to be as good as you can be, week in, week out. I seem to be able to hold a level of performance that lets me be up there in the rankings consistently each year.

“The one week stage races seem to suit me well and the one day races seem to suit me well. That’s where the current system seems to suit me as far as raking up points goes. But I don’t think it’s something I will ever start the season thinking I want to aim for that.

“Doing well overall is a case of trying to be as good as possible, consistently. That just comes with my motivation to race. I love racing and it all goes hand in hand.”

“I just have to keep my head down, not take it for granted that I will be in the front”

Having previously suffered from allergies in the first portion of each season, a nose operation and approved inhaler use have helped Martin to overcome this issue.

Proof of that was seen in 2013 when he snatched victory in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, attacking out of the chasing group behind Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and then dropping the Catalan prior to the final corner.

Although he wasn’t quite in the same form in 2014, he conserved as much energy as possible and then put in an all or nothing effort on the same final climb. It looked agonising but he managed to break the elastic and to hone in on lone leader Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha).

However, just before passing him on that last bend, his front wheel went east and he clattered to the asphalt, losing his chance. Simon Gerrans (Orica GreenEdge) won the gallop to snatch victory, while Martin was left rueing the sudden fall.

The disappointment was all the more acute as he had gone close to winning Flèche Wallonne, taking second place behind Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

Martin makes clear that the Ardennes Classics are of high importance again in 2015. Is there one in particular that he would like to shine in?

“No,” he replied, “if you win any of them it makes for a very successful week. Even just to be on the podium again in Liège or Flèche Wallone will be incredible.”

Key to that is going to be in prime shape heading into the trio of Classics, then make the most of opportunities.

He knows what he needs to do. “I just have to keep my head down, not take it for granted that I will be in the front and really put in the hard graft again,” he said.

“Obviously in one-day races it goes in hand with luck…tactically you can make one mistake and you can lose the whole race. It’s always a crash in a wrong moment that can have a big effect, like Rodriguez last year. He crashed in Amstel and crashed again in Flèche.

“It is just a bit of bad luck and the whole week goes down the drain.”

Still, consider some of the top editions of one day races in the past and it is clear that misfortune and calamity are part of those races’ folklore. As much as winners are remembered, so too are the hard luck stories, the might have beens.

Martin is aware of this and knows that the sheer unpredictability of bike races is what makes the successful moments shine all the brighter.

“It’s what I love about the one day races…that element of luck and tactics,” he said. “Doing well in the Ardennes is definitely the aim; they are races I am good at.”
Il Lombardia 2014  2014

Tour route and two suitable stages

Looking beyond the April one day events, riding well in the Tour de France is also important to him. He notched up a stage in 2013 and while he didn’t take part last season, going back to the race and chasing stages plus a possible strong overall finish are on his to-do list.

Right now, though, he’s trying – and succeeding – in not obsessing too much about that race.

“I haven’t really looked at the route that much,” he said. “It’s so far away and my mind is very much focused on the other part of the year already.

“Obviously we have the Mur de Huy and the Mur de Bretagne in the first ten days and they are two finishes that very much do suit me.

“That thought really motivates me, especially the Mur de Huy on stage three. Obviously it’s not only a personal goal, but riding well there would take the pressure off the entire team. I think it sets the team up for an incredible race if I can be successful that early in the race.

“That will obviously be an objective because in the past couple of years I have been one of the best up the Mur de Huy in Flèche Wallonne. Obviously racing the Tour de France is a different kettle of fish, but we will definitely be very motivated on that stage.”

As for the cobbles he and the others will face on stage five, he’s not losing sleep too much at the thoughts of what could be a dangerous day in the saddle. Martin is known for being laid back and he is taking a wait and see approach rather than fixating on what could potentially go wrong.

“I don’t know how it will go, I have no idea. I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?” he said with a laugh. “I did race on cobbles as a junior, although not the same cobbles as Paris-Roubaix.

“Thing is, it’s the same for everybody at the end of the day. It’s a challenge the Tour de France has thrown at us. I find it quite intriguing to find out what it’s like to ride on the cobblestones.

“Who knows – maybe I’ll find out that I’m really good at it and Paris-Roubaix will be a goal in the future,” he said, again laughing, before making clear that he is not serious. It’s evident that he’s not getting worked up about the pavé.

From rookie to team leader

Martin has been with the team for the entirety of his professional career, starting off in its colours as a stagiaire in 2007.

He’s gone from being an inexperienced young rider to one with an outside chance of victory when not required to work for the more established pros. Now, almost a decade later, he’s in the position of being the most successful on the team and shouldering most of the responsibility.

This remains the case after the merger with the former Cannondale squad, an amalgamation which sees eight riders move across and a change in team name to Cannondale-Garmin.

Martin admits that seeing the green kit for the first time was a jolt, but said that things quickly gelled and started to feel natural.

“Obviously it’s a bit different to before. I walked into the first team meeting and it was all green everywhere,” he explained. “I was like – ‘wow, I feel like I’m in the wrong team, I’ve been in blue for seven years,’ but that’s the only real change I feel.

“It’s still the same atmosphere, the same philosophy and the same motivation for racing – we are definitely going out to do something good. I think the guys who come over from Cannondale are all very excited to welcome our way of racing.

“As for me, I’m suddenly feeling pretty old, to be honest! The responsibility that I have kind of dawned on me. I’ve gone from what I was to almost being something of a road captain, as well at the team leader.

“Okay, we are definitely the youngest team in the WorldTour and there a lot of young, inexperienced riders. But it is really great to still have that enthusiasm and that willingness to race.

“Everyone is so focused on training hard and on really having fun racing. It’s something that really fits well with my psyche.”

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