Dan Martin Interview: Vuelta a Espana will show if general classification targets are realistic
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Monday, August 15, 2011

Dan Martin Interview: Vuelta a Espana will show if general classification targets are realistic

by Shane Stokes at 11:13 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Vuelta a España
Spanish Grand Tour could mark next stage in Irishman’s career

Dan MartinIt’s time to step up a level. Having shown promising form in winning a stage and netting second overall in the Tour of Poland, 24 year old Irishman Dan Martin will start the Vuelta a España next weekend determined to see if he can be a factor in a Grand Tour.

The Garmin-Cervélo rider admits that he doesn’t know how that will work out, but is determined to try to ride consistently over the three weeks, seeing how things end up.

“In the future the goal is to be able to ride the general classification, but having never done it before I don’t want to go into it with lofty ambitions and say what I am going to do and what I am not going to do,” he told VeloNation yesterday. “This race is more about seeing how I perform over three weeks. To see if my body has matured enough to be able to race hard for 21 consecutive days.

“Obviously I have got the level over one week, but it is really the third week where it counts. It gets hard to keep performing at the same level. In the past, I’ve performed over ten days, two weeks, but the recovery has been an issue after that. This time, I hope to go further.”

Martin has started, and completed, two Grand Tours thus far. He was 53rd in his first, the 2009 Vuelta a España, with a best stage placing of 14th in the race to the top of the Alto de Aitana. Last year he opted to ride the Giro d’Italia and finished 57th overall. His best performance was ninth on the stage to Monte Zoncolan, three minutes 31 second behind eventual race winner Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale). He was however affected by allergies in other parts of the race, making it difficult to judge his ride.

Although he’s yet to show it in Grand Tours, Martin is a proven winner. He has taken several victories during his short pro career, and shown that when he is on form, he is one of the best climbers in the peloton.

He showed his ability when he won the 2008 Route du Sud in his first year in the paid ranks, then went on to become Irish road race champion. Last season he gained strength from his Giro participation to take a stage win and the overall classification in the WorldTour Tour of Poland. He then won both the Tre Valli Varesine and the season-ending Japan Cup.

Dan MartinThis year, he showed good form by finishing third overall in the Volta a Catalunya and while allergies affected him in subsequent races, he bounced back to win the Giro della Toscana (left) prior to netting second in the Irish road race championships. He didn’t ride the Tour de France, and instead worked hard in getting ready for the Tour of Poland and the Vuelta.

Battling hard in Poland, remaining balanced about the result:

The first of those two events went very strongly, with Martin grabbing a win on the race’s hardest stage and wearing the leader’s jersey heading into the final day. He was ultimately edged out due to the time bonuses achieved by Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), but left nobody in any doubt that he was the strongest climber in the race.

Still, he doesn’t make a big deal about what was a course that didn’t suit him as well as in 2010. “It was pretty much the same finish as last year every day, apart from the stage I won [then],” he said, referring to the absent summit finish at Ustron which had enabled him to gain race-winning time in 2010. “Obviously I knew the finishes from last year, but that summit was missing. I think overall it was probably a harder race [with all the undulating roads – ed.] but it would have been good to have had that climb in it.”

Because of that changed route, he knew it wasn’t certain that he would be able to successfully defend his title. “Going into the race, my goal was to try to win the hardest stage and maybe take top five on GC,” he said, explaining that he limited his ambitions somewhat. “I knew the time bonuses were going to be an important factor. When I saw Sagan’s name on the start list, I knew he would be a big danger.”

Martin’s stage victory this year came in interesting circumstances. It happened on day six to Bukowina Tatrzańska, and saw him attack on the penultimate climb. He dropped all of the other riders, including race leader Sagan, and crested the summit several seconds clear. A big chase group formed behind, though, and they were able to haul him back inside the final ten kilometres.

There were fears that he had played his card too early, but he was strong enough to attack repeatedly in the finale, crack Sagan and solo to victory. The time gained was enough for him to take over the yellow jersey, although not by enough to ultimately win the race.

“Looking back, I don’t know if I made a tactical error attacking on that penultimate climb…maybe if I had been fresher on the last climb, I would have been able to make more of a difference,” he said, thinking about how things played out. “On the other hand, maybe the other guys would have been fresher for the finish. It wasn’t like it was easy to get me back when I was away, and I wasn’t going flat out…once I realised that there was a big group chasing behind, I kept something for the finale.”

The energy he kept ended up being crucial, with a hard kick inside the last kilometre making the difference. He was delighted to win, of course, and also enjoyed himself. “It was fun being able to race so hard in the final. It’s the style of racing I like,” he said, showing that for him, it is as much about the performance as it is about the result. “The rain also made it epic, it was nearly dark when we finished.”

He held a three second lead over Sagan going into the final stage, and was conscious that there were time bonuses up for grabs in the intermediate sprint and the final dash to the line. Sagan scored in both, and ended the race six seconds clear.

With such a narrow time gap, Martin could be racked by thoughts of ‘what if’? Instead, he accepts how things turned out, and is content with his runner-up slot.

“He deserved to win,” he said. “We said before the final stage that if he could be up there at the finish, he would deserve to get it. We tried to do something in the intermediate sprint…Haussler took the sprint there, but was later disqualified. I don’t think that was fair, but in the end it didn’t even matter because Sagan finished top three on the stage. He rode very well.”

Both riders will now head to the Vuelta a España. Sagan is doing his first Grand Tour and while he performed strongly in Poland, he’s not expected to be a GC contender in the tougher race. Stage wins, yes, but not the overall. For Martin, all going well, it could be a different story.

Form on track, promises to work with Le Mevel:

Dan MartinWhen VeloNation first spoke to Martin last week, he was sitting by the pool. He was taking time to recharge the batteries and while he’s been out on the bike as expected, he hasn’t had to work as hard as other times in the year.

“I did a really heavy training block before the BrixiaTour in July, while the Tour was on,” he said. “I hit the Brixia Tour tired. I obviously raced right through Poland. Now I’m just concentrating on keeping the legs moving…obviously I have got good form, so I don’t need to do any hard work. I just need to make sure I hit the Vuelta fresh, to try to get there in the best possible condition in preparation for the three weeks.

“The second week is tough and will be very important. So what matters is to hit it fresh so you can really go deep.”

Martin was named as the co-leader of the team, sharing top billing with Christophe Le Mével. They will also be joined by riders like Heinrich Haussler, a fast sprinter who is also good on undulating courses. Haussler won a medium-mountain stage in the 2009 Tour de France and finished second in the same year’s Milan-Sanremo. He is coming back to form after missing much of last year due to injury.

One who has been controversially overlooked is world champion Thor Hushovd. He has signed a multi-million dollar deal with the BMC Racing Team and will quit Garmin-Cervélo at the end of the year. He wanted to ride the Vuelta to prepare for his world championship defence, but the team CEO Jonathan Vaughters has decided to focus on other riders.

Although he hasn't said as much, the reason is likely partly due to a peculiar UCI ruling which sees a rider take all of the world ranking points he has earned to his new team. Even though cycling is a team sport, and even though there can often be many people behind any one individual’s success, the UCI rewards only the rider himself and his new squad.

Vaughters said in recent days that he tried to push for a 50-50 split in points, but that the UCI’s Professional Cycling Council – of which he is a member – overruled the motion.

The topic has been a big one in recent days; Martin said he isn’t letting it get to him. “It doesn’t really affect me and I didn’t make the decision,” he said, when asked about the ongoing debates. “I have got no problem with anyone on the team, I don’t really mind who goes. As far as I am concerned, it doesn’t affect me.”

Instead, he’s focussing on his own race, and also on the team’s ambitions in the Vuelta. He said that he didn’t anticipate any problems in sharing the billing with Le Mével, who was tenth overall in the 2009 Tour de France and fifteenth in this year’s Giro.

“Myself and Christophe already work really well,” Martin said. “I tried to let him win in the Giro dello Toscana, but the group caught him and then I ended up winning. We have already got a good working relationship. We understand each other really well, we roomed together at Poland. We are good friends.”

In fact, he doesn’t see it as being the case that the team will end up riding for one or other of them. “We are both willing to work for each other and I think we can both finish top ten in the Vuelta,” he said, convinced that each of them will be in good shape. “That will be the aim going in. It will be really great to have a team-mate there in the high mountains and have that level of support and confidence that you can bounce off each other…”


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