Dan Martin Interview: Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner in the zone as Tour de France begins
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Friday, June 28, 2013

Dan Martin Interview: Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner in the zone as Tour de France begins

by Shane Stokes at 3:58 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Tour de France
 
Garmin-Sharp rider chasing first Irish stage win in 21 years

Dan MartinThings have changed hugely for Dan Martin in the past twelve months, and that transformation from talented outsider to one of the big guns in the sport mean he starts his second Tour de France with a very different perspective.

He made his debut in 2012 and went into the race with hopes rather than expectations. Reluctant to name a goal beforehand, he was a little wary about what the race would bring. This time round, with that first Tour under his belt and some very important victories to his credit, he’s a much more focussed – and, paradoxically, more relaxed – rider.

“All is good,” he says, speaking to VeloNation in advance of the start of the race. “The whole team…the staff, the riders, are very calm. It helps being in a nice hotel, nice pool, with the sound of running water. I think the fact that everyone has had such good preparation helps. We have seen in training how good everybody is. That builds confidence. It feels strange saying that we are relaxed so close to the Tour start, but it is also a good thing.

“Thinking back to last year, I can’t really remember what I was like, to be honest,” he laughs, when asked about his state of mind then. “Obviously I was a lot more nervous coming into the race. I had never done the Tour before. It was more of a feeling of being anxious to start, and also it was a big leap into the unknown.”

Martin set out hoping to do well, and drew on his stage win plus thirteenth overall in the 2011 Vuelta a España to boost his confidence. However while he rode well on certain stages, he also battled a chest infection which hampered him in the overall standings.

Finishing 35th overall and placing seventh, eighth and tenth on stages was solid, but was less than he was capable of.

This time round, though, he seems in a much better situation. In March he won a stage plus the overall standings in the Volta a Catalunya, then in April he placed fourth in Flèche Wallonne and then triumphed in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, arguably the hardest one day race in the sport.

Those results gave him a bucketload of self belief, and mean he’s feeling upbeat about the Tour.

“I’ve had a lot better preparation this year. I am a lot healthier and fitter,” he confirms, sounding satisfied. “I thought I was really fit at the start last year…I wasn’t unhealthy, but looking back I wasn’t as good as I could have been. After the crash in the Dauphiné I had then, it was always going to be difficult.

“That race is now history, but I think the experience definitely contributed to me being stronger, and it definitely contributed to this state of mind that we are arriving at the race with this year. We have got a very strong team and strength in numbers will, hopefully, count in our favour during the race.”

Martin rested after Liège, then returned to racing in Bayern Rundfarht. That got the legs moving, then he ramped things up again in the recent Tour de Suisse. He was sixth and seventh early on in stages, netted a solid twelfth in the final day time trial and ended up eighth overall. He said afterwards he was pleasantly surprised at that, with a level of fatigue going into the race leading him to believe that he might not be so prominent.

Dan MartinSince then he has continued working to get ready for the Tour. So has he had a chance to test his form, perhaps by timing himself on climbs near his base in Girona?

“Not really,” he answers. “I was so tired after Switzerland that I didn’t really get a chance to do hard training since then. We did a few team time trial efforts…that wasn’t really a problem, I felt pretty comfortable doing those. I made a couple of efforts on climbs.

“It is hard to say exactly how I am going… But to finish top ten in Switzerland was already pretty big for me as I wasn’t really fresh at the start of the race. So I was quite surprised at that. I think that shows my form is pretty good, and at the same time we are still three weeks away from the big climbs in the third week of the Tour. There is still time to build that real top form for that last week.

“As far as I am concerned now, I am ready for the race.”

Targets and hierarchy within team:

When the Garmin-Sharp team announced the lineup this week, Martin, the 2012 Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal and the Paris-Nice runner-up Andrew Talansky were named as the likely leaders. However while Martin is pleased to be given equal status, he feels that the team has two more riders who can also do the business.

“I think Tom and Christian can also be in be in the top five of the general classification,” he insists. “That is going to be our biggest card to play, we have got strength in numbers.

“Me and Ryder showed this year, and the guys showed in Colorado last year, that strength in numbers is our biggest asset. It is something that other teams don’t really have. It gives us the opportunity to be a lot more aggressive, to animate the race and really take the race to the other teams.

“I think that is where we failed last year [with several riders being affected by crashes – ed.], and where we are really aiming to go for it this year. To start the race on the front foot and to continue in that matter, and not get caught chasing the race from behind.

“We have got a team with five really strong climbers, five guys capable of riding for GC. It gives us the luxury that we can take risks and keep the other teams guessing as to what our strategy is.”

Martin is an ambitious rider and he would like to clock up his own successes in the race. He describes the thought of winning a stage as a ‘fantastic’ one, and could have several opportunities to chase that as the race progresses.

He’s a strong climber in the big mountains and also explosive on the shorter climbs; having beaten the likes of Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) this year, he knows that he has the potential to nab a stage win if circumstances are right.

Dan MartinA top ten overall is also something which seems within his capabilities, although that will depend on staying healthy and also not being required to ride for another better-placed rider on the team. Both of those factors will only become apparent as the race unfolds.

A third target is the mountains jersey; the classification is something that he confirms he is interested in. “To take that jersey to Paris would be incredible,” he says. “But at the same time, I think the mountain jersey contest will be different to previous years because of the way the points are distributed. There are a lot of points on the last climbs this year.

“Last year it was only sixty points on mountain top finishes, this year it is 180. That is a big difference. Because of that, I think the GC riders are going to be the ones contending for that jersey this year.”

That doesn’t rule him out, of course, but it could increase the number of riders who are in the running for the polka dot jersey.

However before getting carried away with what he might do, it is important to consider that collective team strength he referred to already. “We are very much a solid unit here,” he repeats. “I think that is the policy that we are all going to stick to. We will keep the other teams guessing by not announcing who we are riding for.

“We are going to let the road decide. You don’t know how the race is going to unfold. It might happen that a break goes up the road and one of our GC guys gets a huge head start on the general classification. You don’t know how things are going to work out.

“If I am fortunate it is going to be myself in that position…but whoever it is, we are going to put all our resources behind them and really go for it to support them. You could say I am keeping my cards close to my chest, but it is also the way we are going to race. We are just going to go for it every day and let the race decide.”

The team time trial on stage four is an important rendezvous for the Garmin-Sharp team, particularly as it has won that test in the past. However he is clear that there could be important time won and lost before then.

“The first couple of days are places where you can be caught off guard at any moment, especially stages two and three,” he says. “It is an inventive parcours that hopefully will lead to some exciting racing. In fact, I think that some guys are going to have lost the race by the time they get off the island. Hopefully that won’t be anybody from our team.”

Last year Martin’s tactic was to try to steer clear of trouble early on, then use his energy once the climbs reared up. It is a measure of his improved strength and confidence that he wants to play things a little more aggressively this time round.

“Last year it was my first Tour, obviously,” he states, explaining his approach then. “I started the race thinking about the mountains and trying to save myself for those stages.

“This year I am going into it with a lot less intimidation. I am aiming to treat it like 21 one day races, in effect. That worked well for me in the 2011 Vuelta, and I hope it works well for me here.”

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