Monday 23 April 2018

Daniel Martin: Keeping up the family tradition

With Stephen Roche as an uncle and a father who was an olympian, Daniel Martin has cycling in his genes

Daniel Martin of Garmin-Sharp crosses the finish line to win the Liege-Bastogne-Liege road race last year
Daniel Martin of Garmin-Sharp crosses the finish line to win the Liege-Bastogne-Liege road race last year


Daniel Martin hails from a sporting dynasty which has dominated the discipline of cycling for years. Son of former British Olympic cyclist Neil Martin, nephew of Tour de France winner Stephen Roche and cousin of fellow professional cyclist Nicolas Roche, Daniel has inherited the cream of cycling genes.

But the 26-year-old is adamant on making his own name, now holding an astonishing sixth place in the world Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) rankings.

Dan Martin during a visit to Croke Park following his victory in the 2013
Dan Martin during a visit to Croke Park following his victory in the 2013

Having won the Tour of Catalonia in March, then securing an electrifying victory in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège race in Belgium a month later and finishing fourth in Belgium's Walloon Arrow in the same month, it has truly been a year to remember for the cycling sensation.

And that's not all. Martin is now co-leading the Garmin-Sharp team in the 100th Tour de France (June 29 to July 21), with a stage win already under his belt. With a history like this, who knows what heights he can attain.

Growing up surrounded by cycling, it was inevitable the Birmingham-born youngster was to follow in the footsteps of his family.

"Being part of a cycling family, I think it was natural I developed a love for the sport. I went to watch my dad race when I was only about 10 days old."

However, some say he was a late starter, turning professional aged 18.

"I don't think I was a late starter. I was riding a bike from the age of two, but it's true that bar a few minor competitions, I only really started racing seriously at the age of 16.

"I actually think it's the right time to start as it's not a career, like other sports, that ends early, as you only reach your peak as an endurance athlete around the age of 30.

"Even when I was under 18, I wasn't really that serious. I don't think you need to be at that age as it can lead to getting bored of the sport. I just tried to enjoy it and ride when I wanted to."

Despite being born in England, the Irish rider, who weighs 62kg (9st 11lbs), decided to ride for Ireland in 2006.

"The British nationality was always a convenience. Being at school in the UK, it meant I could ride the national series races without having to travel. Deep down I was always Irish and so when I found out I could change, I spoke to Cycling Ireland and they welcomed me with open arms and I haven't looked back."

And did his strong cycling credentials impact on his decision to turn professional, being the son of Maria Roche – Stephen Roche's sister – and Neil Martin?

"For most kids, it begins as a dream, but perhaps for myself having such a rich family tradition in the sport it made it less of a dream and more of a realistic goal," he says.

This family support was one of the key factors in Martin's thrilling victory in the 261.5k Liège-Bastogne-Liège race. His family moved out to live in Girona with him, a city in the north east of Catalonia, Spain, last year.

"I was completely stunned when I crossed the line – a feeling of disbelief. One of my teammates eloquently put it: 'We all knew you could, never imagined you would.'

"It's a huge race with a list of winners that reads like a who's who of cycling and I still don't think it has sunk in. In the final kilometres I was just so focused I wasn't really thinking of anything. If I started to think about the millions of people watching on television, I might get a bit of stage fright."

This victory made Martin only the second Irishman after Sean Kelly in 1984 to win the Tour of Catalonia and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the same year.

"To be mentioned in the same breath as Sean is incredible, but I'm nowhere near the bike rider he was. He was, and still is, a true legend of the sport and I have a long ways to go yet.

"Last year I was always there or there abouts in the big races, but never quite managed to get a win. Maybe that gave me a confidence boost, coming so close – a belief that I could win.

"I feed off the belief that others show in me and when I have some of the best riders in the world telling me they think I can win, it really pushes you on to make the sacrifices at home and in training in the hope they will pay off."

Despite being based in Girona, Martin tries to get home twice a year to Ireland to see his extended family, who hail from Dundrum in Dublin. "I've lived in Girona for five years now, ever since I became a professional. I originally moved there because my team, Garmin-Sharp, are based there. "It really ticks all the boxes, so much so I think there are up to 60 professionals living in the town now. However, I really enjoy riding the bike in the Wicklow Mountains, the weather just means that overall, Spain is a much more pleasant base for someone who works all day outdoors."

Before his second Tour de France got under way on June 29, Martin was hopeful he would perform better than he did last July.

"Last July was a bit of a nightmare. A great experience that very much contributed to my maturity and confidence this year, as I had to deal with so many hardships during the race.

"It started badly with a crash in my last preparation race. We found out in October that I fractured my scapula in that crash, meaning I rode the tour with that injury.

"Then after three days, I got a chest infection, which obviously is far from ideal.

"Three-week races are such a challenge as you need everything to go right for 21 whole days. I just hope I can fulfil my potential.

"That's what I strive for in every race. The year-on-year build-up of kilometres obviously makes you stronger too, but I believe that by dealing with adversity you become stronger."

With cousin Nicolas Roche at Danish team Saxo-Tinkoff, is there much competition?

"Nicolas shows a lot of belief in me. We have a very good relationship and try to talk in races whenever possible, although it's such a busy life we rarely get to spend time with each other away from the peloton."

And what about from his father or uncle, both cycling phenomenons in their day?

"Cycling has changed so much on both a technological and scientific level, with better nutrition, training methods and equipment. I don't think their advice would count.

'My father acts more as a soundboard than giving advice. I'll bounce ideas off him and he does the same back, but I've rarely talked about cycling with Stephen. He's just my uncle and I've never seen him as any different. I know he's incredibly proud of what I've achieved and how I've gone about it."

And now with 198 riders covering 3,479k for this year's Tour de France, Martin is back in the saddle. Evidently, the confidence gained after the successful season so far was on view when he won the 168.5k mountain stage from Saint Girons to Bagnères-de-Bigorre on Sunday – propelling him to eighth position overall.

"First goal is to stay safe in the first few stages and avoid any time loss. The first days are renowned for being very dangerous as everybody is nervous and anxious to race, plus in the form of their lives, so fingers crossed I can get through that safely and then we can see how the race as a whole pans out."

But, for now, the Irish champion cyclist prefers to live in the moment.

"You'll never hear me say 'I want to win that race, or do this'. Perhaps that makes me an anomaly in such a competitive world, but I cycle for fun. I genuinely enjoy racing and as long as that is the case, I will continue to ride."

This articcle originally appeared in Fit Magazine, free with the Irish Independent every Thursday

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