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Dan Martin: Q&A

James Witts
13 May 2016

Cyclist discovers how Dan Martin's switch from Cannondale-Garmin to Etixx-Quick-Step has left the Irishman feeling positive.

Cyclist: Things have seemingly gone well since your move from Cannondale-Garmin [now Cannondale] where you rode for eight seasons. What prompted the change?

Dan Martin: It’s really hard to pinpoint. I guess it was a feeling that, in many ways, I’d gone stale. 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. Maybe I got bored. No, that’s the wrong word. I just needed something new.

Cyc: You’ve started 2016 strongly, so how much do you attribute that to your new team?

DM: Do you know, up until the past couple of years, I wasn’t a believer in the psychology of success, but as I’ve reached the higher end of the sport I can really see the difference that  mental preparation makes. Moving to a team as an established rider who already has good results, you almost have a reputation that comes with you. I started at Garmin when I was 21 years old and perhaps I was seen differently because we’d grown together. Maybe there was a mutual complacency there.

Cyc: Are there tangible differences between your old team and new?

DM: What we follow in training is much of a muchness but the fact we had a 10-day training camp in December shows that this team is already working hard. We also had a camp in Calpe in early January and another in Mallorca later that month. It seems to be more time away from home but at the end of the day it’s a cycling team so it’s going to have a similar structure and working processes.

Cyc: Boonen, Kittel, Martin, Terpstra, Stybar… yourself. Etixx is like the cycling equivalent of Real Madrid in football. Does it feel like a big step up from Garmin-Cannondale?

There’s certainly recognition that this is a fantastic team of riders. There’s such a competitive element when we train together because you’re surrounded by such a strong group. We’re all away from our homes and families so we all want to make it worthwhile. That’s why everyone’s in bed early each night and fresh for the rides. Patrick [Lefevre, the 61-year-old Belgian manager of Etixx-Quick-Step] has created the winningest team in cycling for the past few years. Being in that environment just makes everyone work that bit harder.

Cyc: Patrick Lefevre is considered by many to be Mr Professional Cycling and is as much a ‘character’ as your former boss Jonathan Vaughters. How do the two compare?

DM: Jonathan’s great but the main reason I came here was Patrick’s belief in me. I’m 29 years old, but there’s still plenty of room, and time, for progression. Patrick believes that I’m not getting enough out of my talent. In this environment, maybe we can get the most out of me and
I can really push on. 

Cyc: Talking of progression, you finished third in March’s Volta a Catalunya. You’ve won in the past, so how do you feel about your result?

DM: It was really hard this year – everyone said that – but to be at the front and going head to head with Nairo and Alberto [that’s Quintana and Contador, who finished first and second, respectively], and taking a stage victory, was really good fun. It was such a young team, too – I think we had four guys under 24. Mind you, I finished Catalunya with a head cold, which perhaps affected my recovery. I’m looking forward to the Ardennes now.

Cyc: How will your Ardennes schedule play out?

DM: I’ll race Flèche Wallonne and Liège, as they suit my style of racing, but I’ll miss Amstel. Historically I’ve used Amstel more as a means to get my legs going for the other two but that hasn’t always worked out perfectly. The year I won Liège [2013], I crashed out of Amstel. The year I finished second in Flèche [2014], I only rode 150km at Amstel. I’d have more to
lose at Amstel than win.

Cyc: Post Ardennes, what do you have planned next?

DM: After Liège, I’ll have a bit of a break and then move into climbing mode back at my base in Andorra in preparation for the Tour. I’ll also be racing the Dauphiné. Until 2015, I didn’t realise that racing the Dauphiné provided much better preparation for the Tour – more so than Tour de Suisse. The Dauphiné gets you ready for the same intensity, you’re on the same type of roads and living out of the same shitty hotels. Essentially it’s the same style of racing and psychologically that’s important. Suisse is always on big wide roads and features super-fast sections, which is a different sensation in the legs. The Dauphiné also gives you an extra week over Suisse to prepare for the Tour. 

Cyc: And once you’re at the Tour, what are your ambitions?

DM: It sounds odd but it’s hard for me to set ambitions because, even though I’m nearly 30, I don’t know what I’m capable of. Clearly Marcel [Kittel] will be there for the sprints, while I’ll sit on the back of the big boys, stay out of trouble, reach the mountains and see what I can do.
My goal is to win a stage. As for position on GC, that develops over time. It becomes a goal when you see where you are in relation to the other guys.

Cyc: The riders will have barely left the Champs-Élysées before they head to Rio for the Olympics. Are you competing?

DM: It’s a long, hilly road race, so of course I’ll be there! I’ve won the other two 250km hilly road races on the calendar [Il Lombardia and Liège] and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Mind you, I won’t be able to train for it too specifically because it’ll be the Tour and then rest. I’ll arrive a week before and recce then… I’m not concerned that I haven’t been to Rio yet as race day is completely different. Ireland only has two slots, though, so it makes a one-day race even more of a lottery than normal.

Cyc: Race motorbikes have made the news again after the tragic death of Antoine Demoitie at Gent-Wevelgem. As a seasoned rider, what are your thoughts regarding safety of motorbikes in the peloton?

DM: It’s difficult because the motorbikes are needed for safety. The problem is, there are things called ‘patience’ and ‘common sense’, which seem to be what are lacking sometimes. You see motos going past between the edge of the road and the peloton at 100kmh. Those speeds aren’t called for, although we cyclists sometimes don’t use common sense either and move across to let the bikes past. 

It’s hard to know what to do but they almost need a hazard awareness test and to keep asking themselves, ‘What’s the worst thing that could happen right now?’ For instance, if the motorbike’s following us downhill and we crash, is he too close to prevent riding over us? The motorbike rider should be thinking that way all of the time. 

In cycling you have to be so alert and expect the unexpected. Some motor riders seem distracted and I guess they don’t have the same reaction times as us. It’s about reading what could happen; reading what’s happening with the peloton; reading that there’s a gravelly corner coming up. You have to react before an event’s happened.

Cyc: Your family has a rich heritage in cycling. Have you ever discussed the issue of nature versus nurture?

DM: A friend of mine pointed out that your athletic genes come from your mum’s side. My mum is Stephen’s [Roche] sister, so potentially she could have been a great cyclist, but she never got on a bike. But nurture is very important. I grew up in a household surrounded by cycling. What with my dad [Neil, who competed on the bike at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics], and Stephen and Nicolas Roche [Dan’s uncle and cousin], I’ve always been well aware of the history surrounding our sport. I’ve been watching bike racing since I was six months old. All those hours as a kid develop a tactical nuance that you can’t just build once you’re 20 years old. Perhaps that’s where I’ve got some of my victories from. Now I’m part of one of the most successful teams in cycling, it’s time for me to write my own chapter. 

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