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Ride like... Dan Martin

27 Jul 2017

What you can learn from the likeable Irishman with the killer instinct

It’s hardly surprising that Dan Martin became a pro cyclist, given his pedigree.

His dad Neil raced for Great Britain at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics, while his mum Maria is the sister of Irish cycling legend Stephen Roche, and his cousin is BMC Racing’s Nicolas Roche, Stephen's son.

Turning pro in 2008, he quickly made his mark, winning the Route du Sud and Irish National Road Race title in his first season.

Since then, he has won two of cycling’s five Monuments – the longest and hardest one-day races – as well as individual stages in the Tour de France and Vuelta a España.

After placing third in the Criterium du Dauphiné in June, Martin went on to finished sixth overall in the 2017 Tour, having animated the race with his attacking riding, remaining in contention for the general classification well into the final week of the race. 

With his sights now set on the upcoming Criterium du Dauphiné, let’s find out what makes him probably the best Irish pro cyclist since his famous uncle.

Fact file

Name: Daniel Martin
Date of Birth: 20th August 1986
Nationality: Irish
Lives: Andorra
Rider type: Hilly Classics specialist, GC contender
Professional teams: 2008-2015 Garmin-Slipstream/Cannondale-Garmin; 2016- Quick-Step Floors
Palmarès: Il Lombardia winner 2014; Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner 2013; Volta a Catalunya overall winner 2013; Tour de France: stage win 2013, 6th overall 2017; Vuelta a España: stage win 2011; Tour de Pologne overall winner 2010; Route du Sud overall winner 2008; Irish National Road Race champion 2008

Challenge yourself

What? When the Irishman moved to Quick-Step, he was joining a squad of cycling superstars – including former World Champion Tom Boonen and German sprint ace Marcel Kittel – as well as rising young talents such as Julian Alaphilippe and Bob Jungels.

‘There’s such a competitive element when we train together because you’re surrounded by such a strong group,’ he told us last year.

And this competition in training is a large part of what spurred him on to successive top 10 finishes in the Tour de France in 2016 and 2017.

Wanting to show up well against your team-mates also inspires great self-discipline and good habits: ‘It’s why everyone’s in bed early each night and fresh for the rides!’ he added.

How? If you’ve been getting complacent and want to up your cycling game, you could do a lot worse than join a club.

Surrounding yourself with stronger, more experienced riders will force you out of your comfort zone and make you work harder.

Most regular club rides are split into groups according to ability, and you should join the one that’s slightly above your current level.

You’ll find it tough at first, and might even get dropped the first few times, but persevere and you’ll soon reap the rewards.

Make a fresh start

What? After eight seasons at Garmin-Cannondale, Martin moved to Belgian team Quick-Step Floors in 2016.

‘I’d gone stale,’ he revealed. ‘It would have been far easier to stay at Garmin. I knew everybody, I had good relationships with them and I wasn’t unhappy there. I just needed something new.’

This was a brave move but it brought him success in his very first race for his new team, with a stage win at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana.

He followed that up with his best-ever overall placing in both the Criterium du Dauphiné (3rd) and Tour de France (9th) in 2016, and has topped that again in 2017 with another 3rd at the Dauphiné and sixth at the Tour.

How? As the old saying goes, ‘a change is as good as a rest’. It’s easy to fall into the habit of riding the same roads every time you go out, but if you’re in a rut, trying something different can give your motivation a massive boost.

A great way to discover new routes is to look at local riders on Strava and see what roads they’re using.

Or join a club and get first-hand advice from experienced local riders, as well as meeting new riding companions.

Why not take a break from road riding altogether? Instead, try a track session at your local velodrome or maybe a bit of cyclocross or mountain biking.

Go for it

What? Despite his easy-going manner off the bike, the Irishman is a fearsome competitor, one of the sport’s great animateurs, who often brings races to life with long solo attacks.

He cites the Ardennes Classics of late spring as his favourite part of the season – long, hard races punctuated with short, sharp, leg-sapping climbs.

His aggressive approach may not always bring him the results he deserves, but it was exactly how he went about securing his two Monument wins to date, launching himself off the front of the pack in the closing kilometres.

‘It’s only a race, you’ve got nothing to lose so you might as well try to win,’ he explains.

How? What sets apart riders like Dan Martin is an intense desire to win that enables them to push themselves beyond their boundaries.

Much of this is nature-given, but the good news is that you can use sports psychology to hone your mental toughness and push yourself harder – techniques such as visualisation, goal-setting and self-talk can boost motivation, confidence and self-belief.

A 2014 study at Wolverhampton University showed that these psychological factors can, in fact, account for up to 20 per cent of performance – not such a marginal gain!

Stay positive

What? In 2014 a crash in the opening team time trial of the Giro d’Italia left Martin sidelined with a broken collarbone.

Rather than get despondent, Martin reassessed his season goals and skipped the Tour to concentrate on his recovery.

He made his comeback at the Vuelta a España, finishing seventh overall, and soon after won his second Monument, Il Lombardia.

How? We’ve all been there – set ourselves a target, maybe a big sportive, and despite meticulous preparation and training, things didn’t work out as planned on the big day.

When this happens, it’s important to keep looking forward. ‘I wasn’t putting pressure on myself to save my season. Lombardy was really just another race,’ Martin told the press after winning in Italy.

Key to bouncing back is understanding what went wrong. As Dan himself says, ‘It happened but you can’t change it.

‘If the crash is your fault then you’ve got a bit more regret but I was sitting on the floor asking myself what had happened, so I think that makes it a lot easier to get over.’

Sports psychologists recognise this as a vital part of the recovery and rehabilitation process.

Follow your heart

What? Although he raced for Britain as a junior, Martin switched his allegiance to his mother Maria’s native Ireland in 2006.

While the British Cycling set-up was more focused on the track, he wanted to pursue a road racing career, and the switch enabled that.

Dan adds, ‘It was easy to ride for GB when I was young but Ireland was always close to my heart. I’ve always supported Ireland in every other sport and I love riding for Ireland now.’

How? Rather than follow the British Cycling programme, Martin took the bold decision to move to France aged 19 and race for an amateur team that better suited his long-term targets.

If you want to be like him, don’t compromise on your cycling goals. That local sportive may be a great ride, but if your heart is set on L’Étape du Tour, work out exactly what you need to do to make that dream become reality.

This may mean being prepared to make sacrifices, but the determination needed to see it through means you’ll be happier and more successful in the long run.

Play to your strengths

What? In 2013, when the Tour featured three time-trial stages, Martin switched his focus to the Giro, which far better suited his abilities as a climber.

But when the route for the 2017 Tour was unveiled, it was a different story. ‘It’s a good course for our team, because the sprinters will have plenty of opportunities, but there will be chances also for me,’ he said when the route was announced.

‘Overall, it’s a nice route and it suits me even better than 2016. I think we’ll see an aggressive race, with many opportunities to go to the attack, and this is very much to my liking.’

With the benefit of hindsight, he certainly hit the nail on the head. 

How? Many amateur cyclists love the big climbs, while for others, any upward gradient offers nothing but suffering.

Likewise, while some riders love to pit themselves against the clock in a time-trial, many of us can imagine nothing more soul-destroying!

Always remember that you ride because you enjoy it, and while there’s satisfaction in pushing through the pain barrier to achieve a goal, there’s no point continuing to flog yourself on the bike if it’s making you miserable – it will destroy your motivation and ultimately put you off cycling altogether.

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