Dan Martin Interview: Garmin-Transitions' Irish climber set to scale new heights in 2010
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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Dan Martin Interview: Irish climber set to scale new heights in 2010

by VeloNation Press at 10:36 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
 

2010 is going to be a very important year for Irishman Dan Martin, who in his first two pro seasons has marked himself out as one of the top young talents in the sport. The climbing specialist is aiming to ride his first Tour de France as support for Garmin Transitions leader Christian Vande Velde and, if he is selected, should learn a lot about the race and lay the foundation for his own future campaigns.

Martin has been highlighted as a future star by team manger Jonathan Vaughters, who earnestly believes that he will leave his mark on the sport. Vaughters states that while it is too soon to know if Martin can bid for overall glory in three-week Tours, he is confident that his glittering climbing abilities will – at the very least - help the rider compete strongly in other events, such as the hilly Classics.

As proof of that, Vaughters has pointed to Martin’s performances in the 2009 GP Ouest France and Giro di Lombardia, where he was fifth and eighth respectively.

Martin first highlighted his ability as a professional rider when, in his first pro season and at a mere 21 years of age, he won the mountainous Route du Sud. In doing so, he rode with panache and confidence to beat experienced riders such as Christophe Moreau. He also followed in the footsteps of Vaughters, who triumphed there back in 1999.

Confidence on a high, he dominated the Irish championships one week later. He then went on to post a number of other strong results, including tenth in the Tour of Portugal and fourth in the Tour of Britain.

Last season Martin continued his progression in the sport. He finished third overall in the Tour of the Mediterranean and then went on to stun the field in the ProTour Volta a Catalunya event, attacking race leader Alejandro Valverde and finishing second on a mountain stage. He ended the race second overall.

Unsurprisingly, he was selected for the Tour de France, but had to sit out the event due to knee tendonitis. Martin bounced back to place fifth in the GP Ouest-France, saying afterwards that he felt that he could have won had he not been overgeared in the final sprint. He rode and finished his first Grand Tour, placing 53rd in the Vuelta a España, and while that proved tougher than expected, he recovered strongly and took eighth in Lombardy.

Since then, he’s been working towards what should be another big season. VeloNation recently spoke to the Birmingham-born Irishman, who is the nephew of 1987 Tour de France winner Stephen Roche, cousin of Ag2r La Mondiale pro Nicolas Roche, and son of former British pro Neil Martin. In part one of a two-part interview, he spoke about a number of topics, including his current condition, the 2010 team lineup, his highlights of last season plus his Grand Tour debut in the Vuelta.

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VeloNation: Dan, you are heading towards the start of what will be your third pro season in cycling. You are preparing for the season at the Garmin Transitions training camp – how have things been going for you there?

Dan Martin: It is good. It is obviously really exciting, meeting all the new guys and getting the new equipment. With Transitions as well here now, it just a big learning experience as far as meeting those guys. It just feels like Christmas again - it is the start of the year, it is like the start of term, everyone seems really fit. I have had a good winter myself, staying healthy – I had no problems.

VeloNation: Did you change things compared to last year – in other words, have you done more or less kilometres?

Dan Martin: I have kind of changed things in that I didn’t really think about [structured] training or anything. I just chilled out and did what I felt like. I really relaxed, because I felt that I had a hell of a lot of fitness left over from the season….

VeloNation: I suppose you don’t want to burn the candle both ends when you are already coming off a busy end of season…

Dan Martin: Yes, that is what is kind of nice - I am not chasing any fitness. I have just sat on it and maintained it. On the rides at the camp, I am definitely not one of the weakest here.

It has been a really fun camp in that sense in that I have been able to do all the training properly. I feel really relaxed, things are good.

VeloNation: You’ve been doing some lab tests there. How do your figures compare with previous tests that you have done?

Dan Martin: It is hard to know because we are doing a new test protocol, so you can’t really compare tests. It is a new one that we are going to continue throughout the season this year, to really help us with our training plans and stuff.

VeloNation: But you are happy enough with your form for this time of year?

Dan Martin: Yes, I am…I feel really good. Obviously training and racing are different kettles of fish, so I won’t know until my first races. But as far as I know, I feel good.

Obviously I don’t do the bigger races until later in the season, so I can continue to build my fitness through racing.

VeloNation: The team had a few riders leaving, such as Bradley Wiggins, as well as a few new guys coming on board. Does it feel like a good set-up this year?

Dan Martin: It does, yes. It is an incredible team – I have always said that. The atmosphere here is great…Jonathan has done a really good job of bringing guys on who have just slotted straight into the vibe of the team and the friendly atmosphere. It is a pleasure to sit at the dinner table with these boys. I enjoy every minute of it. Even the training group – everyone has just gelled together.

It is basically the same core team that we have had for the last two years; obviously there has been a fair shift in guys this year, we have got ten new guys, I think, but still…everybody is fit and ready to go. There is a very strong roster this year, and that is exciting.

VeloNation: Allen Lim left, and a few new specialists came on board. Do you think that the sum of those will outweigh his loss?

Dan Martin: Yeah, I think we have definitely got a lot of really strong guys here this year. Obviously it is a shame to lose Allen, but what we have lost with him, we have gained with a number of new guys. Obviously the more heads you put together, the more bright ideas that are going to come out.

These guys are all specialists in their individual fields, and it definitely adds another dimension to the team, will take things to the next level.

VeloNation: Looking back at last year, what were the highlights for you?

Dan Martin: I was thinking about that today. One of the highlights, personally, was helping David [Millar] in the Dauphine. It felt great to be able to help somebody out who had helped me so much in the races, to be able to drag him up that climb at the mountaintop finish, the one on the Madelaine. It was an epic day anyway and a beautiful stage. Just to be able to be there for him was pretty cool.

But obviously, the one which sticks in the memory is the Giro di Lombardia, as that was the last race [of the season]. It is a race that the Irish have done well in before. To have Nico [Nicolas Roche] in the break and then me in the second break…it was almost like a little Irish team, with Philip watching the wheels behind as well. It was a race that I have always watched from when I was a kid, and it is obviously one of the most beautiful races in the calendar and one I really love. So to be at the front was special.

Then Catalunya as well…that was great. It was my first time riding a ProTour race. Being right in the front in the mountains and to be able to attack on the climbs was a great feeling.

VeloNation: You were second on a stage there, crossing the line just six seconds behind Julian Sanchez, and then finished 15 seconds behind Valverde in the overall. Thinking back on it, is there anything you would have done differently to get a stage win or the overall?

Dan Martin: Well…I never analyse my feelings as far as regrets. It is just circumstances…I mean, when I got second on the mountain stage, the guy had nearly two minutes when I attacked. He had just six seconds at the finish. If the stage had been two or three hundred metres longer, I might have caught him. But it is nowhere near certain that if I had attacked two or three hundred metres earlier, that could have done it - I might have been caught by Valverde behind if I had gone then. You don’t know – it is just circumstances.

Caisse d’Epargne had an incredibly strong team there. Even they struggled to control the race at times; it was such a crazy race after that mountain stage, so unpredictable. I count myself lucky that I held second place. I think it would have been madness if we had taken the jersey because, as I said, Caisse d’Epargne were one of the strongest teams there and they were struggling to control it. At times, it was just Alejandro on his own, riding on the front. It was that kind of race.

That said, I did also have a really strong team there, supporting me in the hills. I think we definitely deserved second, but Alejandro is a great rider. He beat me in the time bonuses, he beat me in the prologue…I only beat him on one stage, and he beat me on every other stage.

VeloNation: Second is still pretty notable, given that it is a ProTour race and you were in just your second pro season. Having done that, I guess you are going to be a bit more confident the next time you are in that position…

Dan Martin: It was not really a question of confidence, though…it was not like I was nervous about attacking or anything…I just did it, and almost regretted it afterwards! I was asking myself, ‘what the hell am I doing? I have just attacked Alejandro Valverde.’

But that was after the fact, it was not a confidence thing [that cost him the win], it was just a legs thing – I didn’t have the legs to take the jersey. He had a really strong team around him and he had team-mates behind when I attacked, so they helped him.

VeloNation: Riders generally tend to improve physically until 29 or 30 years of age. Consequently, every season you should be getting a few percent stronger; that bodes well…

Dan Martin: Well, if that happens, it is going to be an exciting couple of years! But everyone is different, nobody has got any idea when I am going to stop progressing, and also what kind of race I am going to be good at. I might not be good at the three-week Tours, we don’t know yet. I am just going to go into every race, enjoy myself, have fun, and see what happens.

VeloNation: Which is nice, I guess, because you are taking pressure off yourself by not making big declarations but instead seeing how things go…

Dan Martin: Yes, I don’t really see the point in making declarations. If I don’t believe something, I am not going to say it.

VeloNation: Last August, you lined out in the Vuelta a España. It was the first Grand Tour of your career, after you missed the Tour de France due to injury. You finished 54th overall and said afterwards that the race was tougher than expected. Do you think you were slight over-trained going into it?

Dan Martin: Well, the big thing with the Vuelta was the fact that it was my first Grand Tour, and I had no idea what to expect. It was just a big learning process. I am too young, and I don’t know how to peak yet…what happened at the Vuelta was that I didn’t peak right. Peaking is an art and it is something that takes years to perfect.

I am still very much learning, so that is why I am not setting any goals this year. I am going to go to every race, have fun and see what happens. I think that worked well last year as I didn’t really expect to do anything at Catalunya. I had good legs on the day and made the most of my legs that week.

VeloNation: How did that first Grand Tour benefit you?

Dan Martin: The Vuelta was a big learning experience, definitely. Coping psychologically with the fatigue is hard. But I think that over the winter and last season, I have progressed enormously. Firstly because of the injury and, secondly, because of that experience at the Vuelta. Now I know that I can race hard during three weeks and still be able to finish.

Going into the Tour this year, that experience will make me that much more confident of really being able to give it everything one day, and know that I should be able to survive the next. That’s going to be a big, big help…

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Coming up in part II: Martin talks about his schedule, his targets, racing as one of three Irish riders in the top levels of the sport, plus the aims he and the Garmin Transitions team have for this year’s Tour. He also gives some advice for competitive riders and would-be professionals.

Dan Martin Interview Part 2

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