Dan Martin Interview: Big ambitions for the Ardennes Classics
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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dan Martin Interview: Big ambitions for the Ardennes Classics

by Shane Stokes at 5:54 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Spring Classics, Vuelta al Pais Vasco
 
Garmin Barracuda rider takes more laid-back approach to Indurain and Pais Vasco

Dan MartinFollowing on from a strong fourth place overall in the Volta a Catalunya, Dan Martin is back in action in today’s GP Miguel Indurain, and again from Monday onwards when he will compete in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco.

The Irishman will be part of a strong Garmin Barracuda lineup in the races but, after leading the team in Catalunya, appears happy to let his team-mates assume the burden of pressure rather than set specific goals for himself.

“I do Indurain in Saturday, then start Basque on Monday,” he told VeloNation in recent days. “I don’t know what to expect. Pais Vasco has one of the most talented stage race pelotons in the year. Everybody [all the big GC riders – ed.] in the WorldTour does this race, so it does make it incredibly hard to get a result. But for me my objectives are the Ardennes Classics.

“Because of that, I’m pretty open with results…I am going into Pais Vasco with no pressure, I’ll just see how it goes. I’ll definitely aim for a stage, but the GC might be a bit too taxing to go for just before the Ardennes.”

Martin acknowledges that the team has several options for the general classification there, and says that he is willing to help out those who backed him in Catalunya. “The guys worked their asses off for me, so hopefully I can pay them back. We’ll have a super-strong team – we have Ryder [Hesjedal], Tommy D. [Tom Danielson] and Christophe Le Mevel. I am also looking forward to racing with Fabian Wegmann before the Ardennes and to strike up a good relationship with him.”

Second in the Giro di Lombardia last year, Martin obviously has the ability to perform strong in the hilly one day Classics. However in previous seasons he had very inconsistent form in the spring, making it difficult for him to know how he would fare on any given day.

He was, essentially, at the mercy of the weather. Or, more specifically, the pollen count.

Allergies complicated things for him in the Classics in the past, and also in races like the Giro d’Italia.

Fortunately he believes that he’s making progress in relation to the problem. Last winter he had an operation on his nose to try to rectify the issue; that was of limited success, but what appears to have worked in a better way is learning a different technique in using the inhalers he is medically permitted to utilize.

“It is definitely better,” he said, speaking about the symptoms. “I wouldn’t have been anywhere near the front in Catalunya if it wasn’t better. The inhalers are definitely working, which is a big relief on my part. It is nice to almost feel like I am in control, not to have that nervousness about how I’ll go.

“It is not 100 percent, but I am probably 95 percent of my potential now. Last year, the worst race I had was Pais Vasco, so next week we’ll see how good I am. I can definitely feel a tightness in my chest when I am racing, but I can still race. So that’s good. Before, it was like breathing through a straw. “

Complicated Catalunya brings high placing despite injury:

With the emphasis being on hitting peak form for what he hopes will be his first Tour de France, Martin hasn’t competed very much thus far this year. He began in February in the Tour of the Mediterranean, placing 51st, then was fourteenth in the Tour du Haut Var and 46th in the Clasica de Almeria. Several weeks’ training followed prior to the start of the Volta a Catalunya, where he was hoping to improve on his two previous runner-up GC slots in the race.

Martin was well placed heading into the third and hardest stage. GreenEdge rider Michael Albasini had a lead of just over a minute and a half, but was expected to come under major pressure on the tough mountaintop finish of Port Ainé. Instead, though, the stage was cut from 210.9 to 155km and ultimately neutralized in terms of GC because of wretched weather conditions on the final climb.

Albasini ended up keeping the lead from start to finish, winning a race he likely started with no such expectations.

Looking back, Martin talks about the difficulties of the Catalan event, the effects of a crash he had early on stage three, and how he felt that he salvaged something out of a tough situation.

Dan Martin“Obviously it was an eventful week with the snow. It was one of the longest weeks of my life,” he recounts. “In the last couple of days, the peloton was really tired. Even with the shortening of the third stage, we still had nearly 1200 kilometres for the seven days. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a peloton so tired on the last stage.

“Because of the cancellation of what would have been the deciding stage, it meant that every day was just full gas from start to finish. It has got to have been one of the hardest weeks of racing that I have had. Then there were the effects of the crash on the mountain stage. I went down in the same crash as Julian Dean in the first four kilometres and hurt my back pretty good. That definitely took an edge off the form I had going into the race.

“To come out of it with anything result-wise was fantastic, but to get fourth makes me quite proud. Normally I get my results with good form, whereas this result shows more character. I really had to dig super-deep to hold on to what I had.”

Martin ended the race one minute 32 seconds behind Albasini, two seconds behind second-placed Samuel Sanchez and level on time with Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto Belisol), who was third, plus many others.

With no time bonuses on offer, a slot on the podium was possible. That would however depended on the stage placings of each rider. Martin is normally very quick out of a small group and had hoped to take the fight to Van den Broeck; things didn’t work out that way, though, due to the chaos of a pack of climbers galloping to the line.

“I just lacked a little bit of luck in the finish every day…every sprint I got boxed in. I never actually sprinted, so that was frustrating,” he said.

Still, while he can have regrets about that, he also sees a plus to how the race worked out; the stage which should have suited him best and would have given him the chance to go for the overall also ended up being one which almost ended his challenge.

Had he been slightly more injured in the Julian Dean crash, he might have had to withdraw. And, with the way things played out, he admits that the shortened, GC-neutralised stage ultimately helped him.

“I felt good on the hills on the stage before the big day in the mountains,” he said. “It’s hard to say what would have happened, but for sure it was disappointing not to have that deciding factor in the race. That question mark will always be there.

“But as it worked out, I was incredibly fortunate the stage was nullified on Wednesday because of my crash. If the stage had stood as it was, I wouldn’t have been anywhere in the GC. I definitely suffered a lot that day, and obviously you learn a lot about yourself in those moments.”

In fact, when VeloNation spoke to him earlier this week, he was still affected by the fall at that point in time.

“It is getting a little bit better, but I still find it difficult to walk up stairs due to my hip flexors. I don’t feel it on the bike…I could be lacking a little bit of strength on the bike, but I don’t feel much pain. But walking down the street is a bit more problematic.

“Hopefully I can get myself fixed up for Pais Vasco. The team is incredible…we had the chiropractor and an excellent masseur at the race, so they really looked after me and got me through the week.”

Today’s return to competition will give him a better indication of how he has responded to Catalunya, both in terms of the workout he got there and also the injury he suffered. As he explained, the GP Miguel Indurain and next week’s Vuelta al Pais Vasco are not the most important goals of this period; it’s mid-April, in the Ardennes Classics, when he really wants to show what he can do.

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