Dan Martin: Ready to take on the big guns in the Tour de France?
He won a mountain stage in the Vuelta at 25, took one in the Tour at 26 and then finished seventh overall in the Spanish Grand Tour the following year. However despite those strong showings, and despite a spate of top ten stage placings, Dan Martin has never delivered on his GC potential in the French race.
That may be about to change.
The Irishman recently took third overall in the Critérium du Dauphiné, beating the likes of Richie Porte (BMC Racing Team) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) in the big warm-up event. Both will head towards the Tour as real GC contenders and while one week in June is clearly not the same as three weeks in July, the result was an important one for Martin.
He will start the Tour de France as one of Etixx-QuickStep’s most protected riders, and believes he could be on the verge of his best-ever ride there.
“I think the top ten is very realistic now, looking at how I am climbing,” the 29 year old told CyclingTips. “But that still involves getting to the finish in one piece and healthy. I think as long as I can get through the race well then it is possible. We have a really strong team to be able to do that.
“The first aim will be a stage victory again as that is what this team is all about.”
Martin has competed in the race on three occasions. In 2012 he made his debut, taking two top ten stage placings en route to 35th overall. One year later he outsprinted breakaway companion Jakob Fuglsang to nab victory on stage nine to Bagnères-de-Bigorre.
He missed the race in 2014 due to injury, but returned last season and was second, second and fourth on stages.
Going so close to victory was frustrating, but so too becoming sick towards the end of the race. It followed the pattern of his 2013 participation, when he was tenth with four days to go but slipped to 33rd overall.
This time around, both he and his team are feeling better about his chances.
Etixx-QuickStep CEO Patrick Lefevere stated his expectations this week when announcing the lineup. “We have Daniel Martin, another rider who was proved himself at the Tour de France in the past, and who we believe can do even better now as he has the instinct and the form for this.”
The team has several goals, including helping Marcel Kittel to dominate the sprints as he did before, but Martin is definitely an important part of Etixx-QuickStep’s campaign.
Both he, and it, are keen to see how things play out this time around.
New team, new home, new level
In some ways, Martin’s position mirror’s that of Porte. Both riders have shone in shorter stage races – Martin won the 2010 Tour de Pologne and the 2013 Volta a Catalunya, while Porte is a past winner in Catalunya and Paris-Nice – but haven’t translated that into three week success.
They have each shown flashes of brilliance but the Tour has also brought illness and disappointment.
In a bid to move to a new level, Martin and Porte both left their previous teams over the winter. The Australian departed Team Sky and will join with Tejay van Garderen as leader of the BMC Racing Team in the Tour.
As for Martin, he spent eight years with the Garmin/Cannondale/Slipstream setup before opting for pastures new with Etixx-QuickStep.
Thus far, he’s very happy with how things have worked out.
“The atmosphere in the team is great,” he states. “They have a 100 percent belief in me. There is such a great feeling racing with these boys. I think the amount of success this team has had in the past just breeds the confidence that brings even more success.
“The bike as well…everything is just clicking perfectly for me and I just feel really solid on the bike. People have commented that I look much more solid. Maybe it is the change in saddle – maybe it has made my position better or something, I don’t know. But I just feel really relaxed and really solid on the bike. I am very happy.”
There is another factor, though. Martin also draws encouragement from his showings since moving to Andorra last season. He previously resided in Girona but now lives at higher altitude and trains more often in the big climbs.
He believes there has been a clear benefit because of that move.
“The Vuelta last year was where I first started to feel the effects of living in Andorra and training a lot more in the mountains,” he explains. “It showed me that I can climb with the best guys in the right conditions. I then continued improving over the winter and saw again in Catalunya [where he won a stage and finished third overall – ed.] that my climbing had improved a lot.
“I was focussing on the Ardennes and then suddenly I was climbing with the best guys. I was quite confident that with the right training I could progress to being up there with them. I actually started my career more as a climber than the explosive rider I became, and it is almost like I am going back to my beginnings.”
In addition to moving to Andorra, Martin says that he has cut out certain foods due to intolerance. He believes this has paid off; he states that in addition to reducing inflammation, he has also lost weight.
“I have lost that bit of extra muscle I had before. Compared to three or four years ago, I am probably three or four kilos lighter again now,” he states. “I’m basically about two kilos lighter than I was at this time last year. That helps, of course.
“Without knowing it, I had developed into this rider that was a bit more explosive but maybe lacked a bit on the climbs. I’m getting that back now.”
Taking on the big guns
A clear indication of his improvement came in February when he scooped an uphill stage of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. It was his earliest-ever season win and was followed in April by victory on stage three of the Volta a Catalunya. He beat some of the world’s best riders there, with Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), Romain Bardet (Ag2r la Mondiale), Van Garderen, Porte, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Chris Froome (Team Sky) all finishing between two and twelve seconds back.
After taking third overall in that race, the Dauphiné reaffirmed that sense of progress. Martin went into the event saying that he had done plenty of climbing but no high intensity work; despite that, he took fourth, fourth, third and second on mountain stages, dropping the likes of Froome, Contador and Porte again with his finishing surges.
Finishing 19 seconds behind Froome in netting third overall in the main pre-Tour event shows he is in very good shape. He believes there is more to come in July.
“It has been a great week,” he said shortly after the final stage. “The feelings got better every day. I was still lacking a bit of race sharpness…there were a couple of times I couldn’t quite follow the accelerations. That is normally something I am good at.
“It just shows how I have changed my training since the Ardennes; I have just concentrated on the longer, steady efforts. That is all part of the plan before the Tour. I am just really happy with my condition, and how I am feeling on the long climbs is better than ever. It bodes well for July.”