Dan Martin - keeping it in perspective
“I went to my first bike race when I was two or three weeks old,” Daniel Martin tells Roadcycling.com. Cycling runs deep in Martin’s family. His uncle is Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, and former road race World Champion Irishman Stephen Roche. His cousin is Saxo-Tinkoff Bank’s Nicolas Roche. His father Neil Martin rode for the British national team. It’s with this type of background you can understand how baby Daniel was watching his first bike race while still in diapers.
“I’ve grown up with cycling my whole life and in a household where it is everywhere: magazines, television, my father was doing it. It was only natural that I’d progress into that sport.”
“I grew up in an environment that taught me how to be professional. It’s normal to eat healthy, go to bed and rest and not go out partying. It’s the way my life has always been. It’s a way of life and that helps immensely.”
With a cycling pedigree such as that you’d expect Daniel to have a leg over a bike and a number pinned to his back by the time he could stand. That wasn’t the case.
“I just love riding my bike,” explains Martin. “They (his family) are understanding on how difficult this sport is. That’s why there was no pressure to race because they know how difficult it is and how much you need to enjoy it first. Racing comes afterward.”
“I really didn’t start training until I was in the junior ranks. I did a bit of racing but it didn’t really interest me. In England there isn’t a whole lot of under-16 racing with mountains or climbs. A lot of racing is on short circuits and criteriums. I couldn’t win. I’m quite competitive, even at school. I did every sport as a kid – played football, ran a lot, but it was a lot easier to turn to cycling and that’s why it happened.”
While the 26-year-old’s cycling career is on a steady upward trajectory, there have been dips in the road. In 2009, his second season as a pro, he was scheduled to line up at the Tour de France. However, a knee issue occurred and he was pulled from the Tour roster just days before the start. Instead he made his Grand Tour start in that year’s Vuelta a España, finishing 53rd.
A head injury almost scuttled his 2012 Tour. With 34 kilometers remaining in stage 1 of the Critérium du Dauphiné, Martin hit a roundabout sending him crashing to the ground. Remarkably he not only remounted to finish the stage, but also completed the entire stage race.
Martin was able to rebound from his injuries and was selected for the 2012 Tour de France finishing in 35th place on the overall general classification.
The Garmin-Sharp rider is coming off of a great start to his 2013 season taking the overall, as well as winning the Queen stage in the Volta a Catalunya. Included on that list of winners is fellow Irishman Sean Kelly. While the title sponsors may have changed over the years, Martin has only ever ridden professionally for the Slipstream organization.
“The reason I signed with Garmin is the clean ethic and the opportunity to never even have the thought cross your mind (to dope),” explains Martin. “The whole philosophy of this team is relaxed and friendly. It suits my idea of the sport. Obviously it is very professional and one of the best teams in the world now.”
“It’s a bit less robotic, more human, than a lot of teams. That suits my personality and people recognize I am suited to this team. There’s a vulnerability we have – you never know what you’re going to get from us.”
“It comes down to the atmosphere at the dinner table. I look forward to racing because it’s a group of people you know very well. I’m happy here – the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. This team suits me very well and I’d be a fool to walk out on something that has made me so happy.”
The Tour de France is the sport’s biggest event and for many riders their make or break race. However, the Irishman has other thoughts.
“I just love racing and I’m not the guy that says my goal is the Tour de France. Maybe that will change in a couple of years, but I want to go to every race to help the team or ride for myself. I’m fortunate at the moment to get opportunities for myself and that makes me proud to represent the team.”
“It’s the biggest stage race (Tour de France) and the route is relatively sympathetic to myself and my capabilities. I think it will be interesting to see what I can actually do. Last year I didn’t go in with any aspirations. It was more about learning about the race and helping out the guys and maybe nick a stage win.”
When asked if he has a goal for the Tour, Martin doesn’t point to a certain objective.
“There’s a hunger and desire to see what we can do in the biggest stage race that everyone knows. But I’m not the kind of guy that says I’m going to do this or podium at the Tour. It’s more about going there and seeing how good I am and doing my best - then I’ll be happy.”
While the Tour is the biggest race on the calendar, Martin also has another block of favorite races.
“The Ardennes races are what I love. The atmosphere, the course suits me – it’s a really enjoyable week. I get to hang out for a week with my mates in a hotel for 10 days. It’s a really cool week.”
It’s not all about hanging out in the hotel room ordering room service. Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège are important goals. Last year he was fifth in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and sixth in Flèche Wallonne.
“Obviously I want to be successful there and I think I’m coming in with much better condition and a platform to perform well.”
“This year I’ve put in a huge base between Torrenio and Catalunya and now I’m recovering to be fresh rather than recovering from a crash (Martin crashed in Tour of the Basque Country and abandoned), and that’s going to pay dividends. I can do some specific training for the Ardennes – some explosive work.”
With a team rich in talent in both stage races and the one-day classics, is there any concern there might be too many chiefs, not enough indians?
“I don’t see that. I couldn’t have won Catalunya without him being there (Ryder Hesjedal). I don’t see it hampering my performance or results.”
“When responsibility falls on our shoulders it’s nice to have teammates around. I know in Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Ryder and I rode incredibly well together and it was great to be able to play off each other. He would attack and I would sit back and watch, and he gets caught and I would counter. It makes racing a whole lot more fun when you have guys with the same jersey around.”
“I know if I’m not on the best day I’ve got one or two guys on the team that we can fall back on. That happened in Catalunya with Peter Stetina on stage 3 (Stetina finished 6th place on the stage).”
Following the Ardennes he’ll have a break from racing for the biggest race on the calendar – the Tour de France. Has he started a list of possible contenders for the podium?
“I honestly haven’t even thought about it,” said Martin. “Maybe it’s my way to stay focused and level headed, but I see it as another race.”
“The Tour is so far away I struggle to understand the sport’s focus (on the Tour de France) and this is after competing in the race. Maybe I’m the only guy in the sport that doesn’t understand the whole focus the sport has on one race in July in France.”
Reflecting further Martin does recognize the importance of the Tour and how it affects the riders.
“I do admit the race is different – there is so much media attention, so much stress, all the best riders in the world are at their best in one place. It’s an incredible environment to race in and I enjoyed it immensely last year, but once you get past kilometer zero it’s just another race.”
“The media has created this aura around the Tour. The media presence and it is the most publicized race in the world which creates a pressure in the peloton and that’s why it’s an important race. This is essentially an entertainment sport – we’re paid to publicize our sponsors. It’s a viscous circle – the more publicity the race gets the more the teams want to do well in the race, and then the pressure. I think there’s more beautiful races that miss the media attention than this phenomenon called the Tour de France.”
“For me I’m too concentrated on this part of the season. I’ll focus on the Tour a couple weeks before.”
While he’s tipped as a stage race rider, one-day races are near and dear to his heart.
“Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Lombardia are my favorite races of the year for sure,” said Martin. “You leave everything on the road. It’s a win or lose mentality. Stage racing is a bit more calculated – you reserve a little bit for the next day. But one-day racing is taking risks – win or lose. There’s no second chances. I love that one-day mentality – getting on the bike 100-percent relaxed and finishing in pieces. I love that part and the drama.
When given a “Sophie’s Choice” of what he likes better – the stage races or one-day classics, Martin is unable to pull the trigger on either one.
“They are both parts of racing I like a lot and I wouldn’t be able to choose.”
“I don’t know yet if I’m going to be a fantastic grand tour rider or not, but it will be a lot of fun finding out.”
At the end of the day Martin keeps his professional career in perspective.
“Cycling is all about riding to the coffee shop with a bunch of mates and hanging out a bit and riding easy home. That’s cycling to me and hopefully that’s what I’ll be doing my whole life.”
For our US-based readers we have video highlights from Martin's Volta Ciclista a Catalunya victory in our videos section (USA-only).