Jonathan Vaughters Feature: With the right course, I believe that Dan Martin can win a Grand Tour
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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Jonathan Vaughters Feature: With the right course, I believe that Dan Martin can win a Grand Tour

by Shane Stokes at 7:26 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
Garmin-Sharp chief talks Tour de France tactics, Martin’s potential and more

Jonathan VaughtersGarmin-Sharp chief Jonathan Vaughters has overseen the development of Dan Martin ever since the Irishman turned pro in 2008 and now, after his first Tour de France stage victory, he seems clear in his belief that a big future could lie ahead.

Martin won the ninth stage of the Tour on Sunday, outsprinting Jakob Fuglsang to the line and continuing the progression he has shown in recent seasons.

The result followed on from wins this year in the Volta a Catalunya and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and those plus his strong Tour showing give Vaughters reason to believe that the 26 year old could step up again in one or two years.

Asked if Martin could go on to fight for a Tour title, Vaughters thinks success in a three week race could be possible, but believes that this depends on the right conditions being in place.

“With the Tour de France, it is a strange race – it is so dependent on the course that they put together. If you look at last year’s Tour de France in 2012, Dan Martin could have the best form of his entire life and he would have no chance on the parcours then,” he told VeloNation.

“But if the Tour continues along the lines of this year, where the time trials are a little de-emphasised and the mountain stages are more emphasised, as we have seen with the Giro and the Vuelta in the past couple of years, then sure.

“Winning a Grand Tour is a possibly for him, but it has to be the right parcours. It has got to be a parcours that is suited to his talents.”

Unlike some riders who make dramatic – and sometimes illogical - jumps in their later careers, Martin’s has been one of steady progression. A very strong amateur rider at home on the climbs, he took the Route du Sud and the Irish road race championships in his first year as a pro.

In 2009 the-then 22 year old placed second overall in the Volta a Catalunya, plus third [and best young rider] in the Tour of the Mediterranean. Victories in the Tour of Poland and the Japan Cup followed in 2010, then Martin won a stage plus finished thirteenth overall in the 2011 Vuelta a España, his third Grand Tour. He also took the hilly Giro di Toscana.

The good results continued in 2012 with a King of the Mountains win in the Tour of Beijing, where he was fourth overall, plus top six finishes in Catalunya, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Flèche Wallonne.

He also rode his first Tour de France, where he took a solid 35th despite illness.

His victories this year show that he is now able to successfully fight with the world’s very best riders in the biggest races. They also keep the upward trajectory going.

Dan Martin“If you look at Dan, every year he makes one step up,” says Vaughters, talking about that progression. “What is the interesting thing is that the one step he makes is to winning something. If you look at his first year neo pro, he won Route de Sud. In his third Grand Tour, he was already winning stages. He is not just a rider who sits on the wheel, sits on the wheel and finishes four or fifth overall. He’s not someone who does that through being steady in the time trials and steady in the mountains.

“If Dan finishes fourth or fifth in the Tour this year, it is going to be because he wins another mountain stage and goes on some other incredibly courageous attack. That is the way that it will come to him. It doesn’t come to him through riding steadily. He is unique in that regard.”

Vaughters believes that Martin’s mentality is a big part of this. “You see a lot of riders who first they finish twentieth, then they finish fifteenth, then they finish tenth. With Dan, when he finally makes it to a certain level in his career, he wins at that level, whether that is one day races or stage.

“I think that some day he could win a Grand Tour, I just don’t see him doing a Grand Tour being Steady Eddie and finishing fourth or fifth or sixth beforehand. It will just sort of pop out…all of a sudden, Bam! he wins a Grand Tour.

“He is interesting that way. He has got such a unique psychology. He is truly a winner. In his head, when he sees that finish line, he just doesn't lose.”

Historic stage win:

That example was perfectly illustrated on stage nine of this year’s Tour, where Martin clipped clear on the final climb with Jakob Fuglsang, held off the chasing bunch to the finish, and then comfortably beat the Dane in the sprint. Speaking to VeloNation afterwards, he described his tunnel vision plus his confidence.

“I was very calm in the situation. I didn’t let the significance of the occasion affect me. It didn’t feel like a stage of the Tour de France,” says Martin. “I was just concentrating on his back wheel and I knew beforehand from the map that you had to be first into the last corner to win.

“I was confident. Although every race is different, I know I am fast…especially in that situation. At the end of a race, I tend to be really quick. It is nice having the confidence coming into the final.”

Dan MartinThe stage began with some very aggressive racing, with the Garmin-Sharp team being amongst the most active in those early salvos. Vaughters had promised fireworks before the Tour, and he and his squad certainly delivered on that.

“We had pinpointed it as the day that we were going to throw it all on the table and see what came up. The plan was basically just to cause havoc in the race and to see if we could get a group to go away that could make it all the way to the line,” he says.

Although Ryder Hesjedal got into an established break, it was brought back. It meant that things were together on the final mountain of the day, the Hourquette d’Ancizan. Race leader Chris Froome had been utterly isolated from his Sky team-mates, and a flurry of attacks from GC contenders was expected.

Was Vaughters concerned that Martin’s chances could have been lost at that point?

“Well, I had obviously hoped that the bigger groups that he was in with his team-mates earlier on would have made it further into the race,” he explains. “I thought to myself, ‘now it is a little bit more difficult.’ But the thing with Dan is that after the day that the team put in, he would never want to let those guys down. He found a way to win in spite of the odds.”

After an unsuccessful attempt to get clear by Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Martin timed his move perfectly and clipped away. As he has done before, he jumped hard right at the moment of a slight lull in the group behind, and this allowed him to open a gap. He was then joined by Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang very soon afterwards. As they drew steadily clear, the stop-start racing which followed enabled them to go over the top with a decent advantage. They then pulled hard together on the descent to hold their lead.

“It looked like people were just tired, from what I could tell,” states Vaughters, explaining the lack of a continued response. “Even on the climb – once Dan was away, you could tell that everyone’s legs were gone from the day before and all the attacks earlier in the stage. I don’t think it was that anyone wasn’t trying…you could just see that it the fatigue of the first nine days of the race.

“Look at Valverde, for example. Would you want to attack there to try to win the yellow jersey? Of course you would…but I don’t think he had the power to do it.”

The result came at the perfect time for the team, which saw one of its top riders, Ryder Hesjedal, crash on stage one and suffer a fractured rib, and another, Christian Vande Velde, fall twice and retire from the race. A tough day on Saturday had also seen Martin, Andrew Talansky and Hesjedal finish further back than they had expected.

For Vaughters, disappointing moments are not unusual at the world’s biggest race; the response is what makes the difference. “Listen, every team has had some setbacks on this Tour de France. It has been a rough Tour. It is not unique to us,” he says. “It is always how you deal with those setbacks and how you overcome them and move forward.

“The guys have done a beautiful job of moving one step beyond the setbacks and just putting them in the back of their mind and going on with the strategy.”

Remainder of the race:

Martin moved up to eighth overall as a result of the stage and remains there after the much flatter tenth leg to Saint Malo. Next up for him is Wednesday’s 33 kilometre time trial, then three more flat/lumpy stages will precede Sunday’s important slugfest up Mont Ventoux.

Jonathan VaughtersMartin looks like he could be set for a top ten overall finish, but Vaughters doesn’t want to commit totally to that just yet. “I don’t want to get too focussed on the GC race because I like the way the team raced Sunday, where we risked everything and threw it on the line.

“But with the confidence that Dan will get out of that stage, he certainly won’t go slower once we get to the Alps. I would look for him to be great there.

“He has also been time trialling better and better, and was a good part of our team time trial efforts. I think he will do a reasonable time trial as well.”

In general, rather than playing things safe, he wants to see continued fireworks, as was the case on stage nine. “What I want is just to see the guys continuing to show the fighting spirit they showed on Sunday,” he explains. “They can’t do that every day of the Tour de France, or they would arrive in Paris in body bags. But there are a couple more stages before the race is over with that they go out and really smash the race up and have fun.

“Whether that ends up with a victory or doesn’t remains to be seen. Of course, it is always nicer to win. But I think the most important part is that we get a couple more days like Sunday, where the team really shows itself and comes up with some crazy strategy that no-one is thinking of in order to try to rip the race apart.”

He accepts that there is a risk to doing that, a chance that the team could come away with less than it would achieve if it were more conservative. Still, having derived such satisfaction from Sunday’s stage, he is keen to see more of the same.

“I think it was four or five days ago I said to the guys ‘I want you all to come up with a couple of days where you risk everything with the possibility of doing something incredible. If it doesn’t work out, you can blame me. You can say, ‘JV is the crazy bastard that made us do it.’ But if it does work out, then you can thank me.”

That aggressive approach also extends to Martin himself. “I just think in Dan’s own mind, if you asked him, he would rather win another stage than finish eighth,” he states. “That said, if Dan wins another stage in the Alps, if that were to happen, he is going to be finishing a whole lot higher than eighth place.

“We certainly won’t have a defensive tactic. That is not the team I brought. I didn’t bring a team for defending anything. I brought a team to really attack the race. I think we will just stick with that.”

What’s clear is that Vaughters has a considerable feeling of satisfaction at Martin’s result. The rider signed his first pro contract with the team, but not as early as the American had anticipated.

“He is a Slipstream original. That is incredibly rewarding,” he says, articulating his feelings about a rider he guided for the past six years, and helped bring him to where he is now. “It just brings me back when I was out on a boat fishing. I had been trying to chase down Dan Martin’s phone number and I finally got it. This was in 2006.

“I called him up and said I’d like you to turn pro, because we were going to have a pro continental team in 2007. I told him that I’d like him to be with us.”

Vaughters still seems a little bemused about the outcome, chuckling at the memory. “He turned me down!” he states, with a laugh. “He said, ‘ah, you know, I am not mature enough to turn pro yet. I need another year to develop in the U23 ranks. But thanks very much Mr Vaughters, and let’s keep in contact.’ And that is what he did.”

Having shown he had his own mind and was able to see the longer term picture, Martin signed up for Slipstream for the 2008 season. Since then he has been an increasingly important part of the team and its success.

Vaughters takes a lot of satisfaction from that. “He has been a joy to have on the team, from the very beginning of this squad.”


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