Tuesday 16 July 2019

Paul Kimmage meets Dan Martin: Growing up with the Roches, the scourge of doping and Tour de France ambitions

Dan Matin, team Quick Step. Saint-Etienne, Loire, France. Photo: Bruno Amsellem / Divergence
Dan Matin, team Quick Step. Saint-Etienne, Loire, France. Photo: Bruno Amsellem / Divergence
Paul Kimmage

Paul Kimmage

Nine years ago, during a pleasant drive from Girona in Spain to a ski station called La Molina, I had a fascinating conversation with Jonathan Vaughters, the kindly (and slightly zany) director of the Slipstream Cycling team. We were talking about Dan Martin, and his cousin Nicolas Roche, and Vaughters' conviction that only one was destined for greatness.

"Do you know what mitochondria is?" he asked.

"No idea," I replied.

"It's the single biggest genetic factor for determining great endurance athletes."

"So we're talking genes?" I said.

"Yeah. Forget about heart size and lung size. It's all about the Mitochondrial DNA."

"But Stephen Roche won the Tour de France?"


"And Dan's father, Neil, didn't ride the Tour de France?"


"So surely Nicolas got the wonder genes?"

"No, because mitochondrial DNA is only passed via the female."


"Dan Martin has the same mitochondrial DNA as Stephen Roche. He got it from his mother, Stephen's sister. Believe me, Dan's the man."

And so it proved.

The two cousins have always fascinated me. I loved both of their fathers and fancied both of their mothers and spent a long time watching from a distance as they wrestled with the pressures and perils of their glorious but dark trade. Nicolas had just completed his seventh season as a pro when we met for the first time in the winter of 2011. He was courteous, witty and dressed like a tailor's dummy. Three years later, I travelled to Girona to meet Dan.

He hardly said a word.

Last week he travelled to London for the World Athletics Championships where his wife, Jess, was competing for Great Britain in the 10,000m. Two fractured vertebrae - a legacy of his fall on the ninth stage to Chambery - had kept him off the bike since the Tour. "It sounds more dramatic than it actually is," he smiled. "I'll be fine with three weeks' rest."

So we ordered coffee and pulled-up some chairs.

Dan Martin descending the Galibier during this week’s Tour de France: ‘We’ve nobody around us, but take a look at what was in front of them (the yellow jersey group). It’s just unfair.’ Main photo: Bruno Amsellem/Getty Images
Dan Martin descending the Galibier during this week’s Tour de France: ‘We’ve nobody around us, but take a look at what was in front of them (the yellow jersey group). It’s just unfair.’ Main photo: Bruno Amsellem/Getty Images

1 The Quiet Man

There was one regret, whenever people asked, "Have you done the Tour de France?" it always hurt him to say no. I ask about his brother-in-law and 1987.

"Where were you when Stephen won the Tour?"

"I won the Saltburn Classic that day," he smiles.

"You didn't watch it?"


"Where were you, Maria?

"I was with Neil."

Sunday Independent,

June 2013

Paul Kimmage: Dan, it's four years since the last time we sat down with your parents in Girona. I had a look at that interview again last week and I'm not sure you actually said anything.

Dan Martin: (Laughs) That's probably true.

PK: Okay, so let's start with this: 'Who are you?'

DM: Who am I?

PK: Yeah.

DM: As a sportsman or as a person?

PK: The person.

DM: That's a tricky one. I have definitely grown as a person since I met Jess. She's had a big impact on me and given me perspective, but I don't really analyse myself too much. It's hard to look in the mirror because the natural thing is to be critical - at least for me it is. I'm not one for self-praise. I think we can always improve. I'm trying to be not only the best cyclist, but the best person I can possibly be. And I hate conflict.

PK: You do?

DM: Yeah, I've never felt that anger and frustration are the best way to deal with things. I'm perhaps a bit too quiet to be a proper team leader and prefer to ask for help than to demand it. I think, at heart, I'm a bit shy. If I'm at a race, or an event, I have no problem spending the day signing autographs, but if somebody comes over when I'm having dinner with my wife, or out with friends, I don't enjoy that.

PK: You don't enjoy the spotlight?

DM: No.

PK: Does that come from your mum or your dad?

DM: I don't know, really. I think I've my dad's outlook on life.

PK: He's laid-back.

DM: Yeah, a bit too laid-back. Dad is never assertive. He tries to gently steer the boat rather than drive the boat. My mother is more forceful; she speaks her mind all the time. I have flashes of my mother every now and again where I just snap (laughs) but I'm (mostly) a pushover.

PK: Okay, a harder question.

DM (laughs): Harder?

PK: Where do you get your cycling genes from?

DM: I don't know, I'm not an expert in genetics. Some people came up to me during the Tour and said: "You look like Stephen on the bike - even your eyes and your hair." And yeah, I can see the comparison. But I definitely picked up my love and passion for the sport - and it's the reason he is still riding now - from my father.

PK: You were a year old in 1987 when your dad won the Saltburn Classic on the same day that Stephen won the Tour. I don't imagine you remember that?

DM: No, but I've seen the photo and I had a nice jumper on.

PK: What's your first memory of your dad racing?

DM: My earliest memories are of eating sandwiches in the back of a van with my grandfather in the pouring rain, waiting for dad to come around whatever circuit it was. I remember he separated his shoulder once in a crash, when a cat ran out into the peloton. That's probably the first memory . . . in '92 or '93.

PK: What's your first memory of your uncle being famous?

DM: That's actually a lot easier - it was when the Tour (de France) came to Portsmouth in 1994. He was working for Eurosport and we went for dinner after the stage with him and (the commentator) David Duffield. I never watched him in a race; I never saw him as a cyclist, he was just my uncle.

PK: Until that day in Portsmouth when you realised he was 'someone'?

DM: Even then, I'm not sure that was (because of) Stephen. I think it was more that David Duffield's voice sounded the same in real life as it did on TV (laughs).

PK: How did you see him as an uncle?

DM: We used to go over (to our grandparents in Dundrum) for two or three weeks in the summer, and every second Christmas, but they (Stephen's family) were in France and weren't always there. I remember one summer when they were living in . . . was it Shankill? And riding a tandem around the garden with Nico. But I never spent much time with Stephen, and I never really spent much time with Nico until I started cycling.

PK: So it was only later that you got to know Nicolas?

DM: Yeah, and even now I wouldn't say I really know him. We catch up and talk about stuff whenever we can. We stayed in Nice for a couple of days after Paris-Nice, and he drove over from Monaco with his wife and we met for coffee . . . stuff like that.

PK: But you're not close?

DM: I think we're as close as any cousins, or closer than the average cousins. We went to each other's weddings; we see each other at races; we text every now and again.

PK: Your characters are different.

DM: Yeah. I think Nico has always felt the family pressure. I've built up this barrier from what I read and what people say. I separate myself from a lot of stuff and just focus on myself.

PK: You don't follow the herd?

DM: I've never felt a need to follow the herd. I remember when we were kids everybody had those mini-skateboard things. But I just thought, 'No, that's stupid. I don't want to do that.' I did not follow the trends. Maybe it's selfish as well. Me and Jess are almost anti-social - we're happy to be on our own, we don't need to be part of a group.

PK: Nicolas is more flamboyant.

DM: Yeah, but he's also very . . . as I say, I don't know him massively well but I think he is very guarded as a person. I think everybody has their public persona and their private persona, and I think I've got deeper into his private persona than he lets on to a lot of people.

PK: What about your sense of identity. You were both born abroad but race for Ireland, and use the word 'we' as in 'we the Irish'. Is that how you see yourself?

DM (smiles): My wife would laugh at that question.

PK: Why?

DM: Because she just thinks it's great being British (laughs): 'Why wouldn't you want to have this British flag on you?'

PK: Well, you were born here (in England)?

DM: Exactly, and I grew up here.

PK: So why wouldn't you?

DM: I don't know. I can't put into words why I feel more Irish than British, and I get asked that question so many times.

PK: I've never heard you asked that question.

DM: No? Well, it's probably more fans than journalists who ask, or friends who are trying to have a dig at me. I have this vivid memory of the 1994 World Cup. I went to a Catholic school in Tamworth - St Gabriel's - and I'd say at least half the kids had an Irish background, and supported the Irish national team.

PK: Maybe it was because England didn't qualify that year?

DM: Yeah, but even back then, when nationality was never even a question, we were Irish. And I always supported the Irish rugby team.

PK: How was school?

DM: Well, again, I did my own thing. I would do my homework on the day I got it, rather than wait until the deadline like everyone else. I would start at lunchtime and it didn't bother me not to socialise. I thought: 'Let's not waste this hour at lunchtime and I'll have some free time for the bike when I get home.'

PK: So you were ordered?

DM: Yeah.

PK: You had discipline?

DM: Yeah.

PK: Were you academically gifted?

DM: I was good at exams. I have a brain that remembers facts and rarely needed to revise. I did history and languages for my A Levels and I was able to relax and do my best because it wasn't as if my future depended on the results. I was going to be a pro bike rider.

PK: At what stage did you decide you were going to be a pro bike rider?

DM: I didn't decide, I just knew. It was weird. The other kids used to laugh at me but there was never any doubt in my mind. I don't know why, perhaps it was my family heritage, but I had almost this subconscious belief that it was going to happen. And I think it drove me to be more disciplined because there was no Plan B.

PK: But even your uncle had a Plan B (Roche served an apprenticeship as a fitter). His parents insisted on it. Your parents didn't?

DM: No. My dad believed in it fully. I think he saw from an early age the determination I had, and the ability to suffer. And I believed I was good. I remember as a 16-year-old, hanging on to these elite riders (in training) and they would be like: "Jesus! You're talented." That gave me confidence.

PK: What was so special about being a pro bike rider?

DM: I don't know. Maybe it was (the chance to emulate) my father. Maybe it was being surrounded by it as a kid; reading the magazines, watching it on television; maybe it was a way of releasing my competitiveness. I honestly don't know.

PK: Tell me about the first time you saw the Tour?

DM: The first time was in Portsmouth in '94.

PK: Sorry, the second time, the camping trip with your parents to the Pyrenees when Armstrong won in '99.

DM: I was amazed by it. From where we were standing in Val Louran you could see the descent off the Peyresourde! I remember the helicopter coming up through the valley and then the riders coming up and it was just . . . madness! This huge circus! I loved the whole atmosphere, the whole caravan . . .

PK: What about the fact that your father had never ridden it?

DM: The effect it had on him?

PK: No, on you, on your ambition? You're telling me you knew you were going to be a pro but . . .

DM: My dad had never made it.

PK: Well, he never made it to the Tour.

DM: Yeah, I don't know, because even back then we didn't know how bad the situation was with the doping and stuff.

PK: Can I just highlight the fact that you've brought up that word.

DM (smiles): Yeah. The point I was going to make was . . . even at that age I had this pessimism about it.

PK: You had?

DM: Yeah, for sure.

PK: That's extraordinary.

DM: Why?

PK: Because Pat McQuaid (the former president of the world governing body) said recently that he had no idea until about 2009 that Lance Armstrong was doping! And here you are, a 13-year-old boy, and already you have this pessimism.

DM (laughs): Yeah, I know.

PK: What was it based on?

DM: I don't know.

PK: It has to have been based on something?

DM: I know L'équipe were very anti-Armstrong at that point, and my dad wasn't a fan. We were always anti-Armstrong. I don't know, it was just a gut feeling I think. Or maybe there's some hindsight involved; maybe if you had asked 13-year-old Dan Martin: "Is this real? Do you believe in this guy?" He would have said "Yes". So maybe hindsight is affecting my judgement, but I remember when (Operation) Puerto happened in '06, it didn't feel like a big surprise to me.

2 The Forbidden Fruit

Dear Dan, do you remember? It was more than 10 years ago, before you became one of the best classics riders, winner of Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Lombardy, long before you cast your sights on the Tour de France. You were useless. This is what your French club explained to me: "Dan Martin? The little Irishman? He's nice, but he's useless." Since then, it's fair to say you've improved a bit . . . But you're more than a good athlete: you're a hero.


July 7 2017

PK: There was a piece about you in Liberation last month during the Tour: 'Dan Martin, tu es un heros'. It was a letter from a journalist, Pierre Carrey, who had got to know you during your stint with an amateur club, the VC La Pomme, in Marseilles.

DM: Yeah.

PK: He was writing for the club website at the time and he paints an interesting portrait of your debut there in 2005 and how difficult it was.

DM: It was the first time I had been away from my parents, ever, and suddenly I'm getting on a plane at Gatwick in early January with no return ticket, no idea when I'm going to be back, and no real idea what I'm getting myself into.

PK: Nicolas had just turned pro but had raced there a year before?

DM: Nico was the reason I went there; he got me the place on the team. It was the only path to be a professional; the path chosen by my father, by Stephen, by so many before me. But there were some lonely nights, definitely.

PK: What happens when you get off the plane?

DM: I think I must have been picked up by a team car or something but they basically just drove you to the apartment and fucked you out at the door. 'Here's your key now off you go.' It was a three-bedroom apartment with a bunk bed in each room and mould growing all over the bathroom.

PK: How many riders?

DM: I think about six or seven had gone pro that year so they had expanded and taken a lot of young riders on. I'd say about 22 in total; three Moldovans, a Pole, a Japanese guy, Daryl (the South African, Daryl Impey), and myself and Tim Cassidy. The rest were French.

PK: 'The little Irishman. He's nice but he's useless.'

DM: Yeah, that resonated with me, "You're shit!" I was still beating all the other 18- and 19-year-olds at the club but it was because I wasn't French. There was a lot of animosity between the riders, a definite sense of them and us. I'd had a very protected childhood and I learnt a lot about life there and how two-faced people can be. There was bullying, insults, guys spreading rumours, 'He's doping!'

PK: That was the rumour?

DM: Yeah, guys telling their friends, 'I shared a room with him. I saw him dope'. Trying to dirty your image. It was horrific, just jealousy. There had to be a reason you were better than them: 'If he's beating me, he must be doping.'

PK: Okay, again, I just want to highlight the fact that you've brought this up.

DM (smiles): Yeah.

PK: What about your awareness of it at that stage? Did you have any sense of doping in the amateur world?

DM: My first real contact - and I remember this clearly - was on the morning of the first stage of the 'baby' Giro (the amateur Tour of Italy) in '06. They had tested everyone the day before and I remember being told at breakfast that three or four guys wouldn't be starting because (their haematocrit) was over the 50 per cent level. I thought, 'Holy shit! That's ridiculous!' Because that was perceived as doping, but one of my team-mates was laughing: 'Yeah, mine was 49.9 (per cent)!' and I never looked at him in the same light again. So that was the first realisation: 'Maybe you are surrounded by this'.

PK: What was your haematocrit?

DM: I can't remember. I was probably fucked, so it was probably 42 (per cent) or something. But I still beat him in the prologue (laughs).

PK: What is it now?

DM: Normally?

PK: Well, it shouldn't change that much, should it?

DM: It depends how tired you are. When I'm healthy and ready to go it's probably between 46 and 48. I think I'm naturally quite high. The lowest I've ever been was at the Giro in 2010, a race that nearly killed me, when I started at 46/47 and finished at 39. I have never been that dead. I limped through the last four days and was absolutely on my knees.

PK: Okay, stay with your apprenticeship at Marseilles. Here's another quote from the Pierre Carrey piece. As an amateur, the bike was distorted by EPO, growth hormones and other drugs . . . One day I had to ask you the forbidden question, "Why don't you dope?" It was not "Are you doping?" because I saw every day how clean (pharmaceutically) your apartment was in Aubagne, and how isolated you were. And you did not have friends who could have helped you out with a discreet vial. Do you remember him asking the question?

DM: Yeah.

PK: He says you were silent, but not inhibited, and began to think aloud. "What would be the point? Do you think I need it? I'd bring shame on my father. I was not educated to cheat. I've never stolen anything, not even a sweet."

DM: Yeah, and it goes back to what we were saying about being independent, I was going to go my own way. Do my own thing.

PK: A few weeks after this unsettling experience in Italy, the Tour is rocked by Operation Puerto?

DM: Yeah, that made a big impact. There were so many problems, but I kept telling myself, 'These guys are just idiots. It's getting better. It's clean enough now that (doping) doesn't make much difference.' It was the only way to keep sane.

PK: You had your first big win in August that year.

DM: Yeah, I won the time trial at the Valle d'Aosta (Italy) and finished second overall. Slipstream (a nascent American team run by Jonathan Vaughters) were at the race and I got the call from them after to turn pro. I didn't want to rush it. I had only just started to be successful again and I didn't want to turn pro and have my arse handed to me. So Jonathan agreed to delay it for a year.

PK: Until 2008?

DM: Yeah.

PK: Were there any other suitors?

DM: I could probably have gone to any of the French teams but I respected the fact that they (Slipstream) had come in first, and their anti-doping philosophy; they were the first team to say, "We are not going to use needles. We are not going to turn a blind eye to this (doping)." It wasn't popular - a lot of the other teams resented them for it - but it was exactly what I wanted to hear.

PK: It takes you six months to get your first pro win at the Route du Sud.

DM: Yeah, then I won the Nationals (Road Race Championship) in Midleton.

PK: And a year later, Lance Armstrong is back.

DM: I had one race with him, the Criterium International in Corsica, but no contact.

PK: You never spoke to him?

DM: No.

PK: How did you feel about him coming back?

DM: It didn't really affect me that much. I remember sitting in the airport in Corsica facing two flights to get home, and seeing his private plane with LA7F or whatever it was, painted on the tail and thinking, 'Jesus! Wanker!' (laughs) But that was it, really. If we had been direct competitors it might have been different, or if I hadn't pulled out of the Tour that year, but I never raced with him.

PK: Because you were due to ride the Tour.

DM: I was (at the start) in Monaco!

PK: Yeah, I remember.

DM: I had picked up a knee problem two weeks before, and could have had (it treated with) a jab of cortisone but I didn't want to do that.

PK: On ethical grounds?

DM: Yeah, although there was no issue with the rules. I was only 22. The cortisone would degenerate the tendon and I didn't want problems later in my career.

PK: Stay with Lance: A year later Floyd Landis goes nuclear with the doping at US Postal and there are some obvious repercussions for your team. You are surrounded by guys - Vaughters, Vande Velde, Zabriskie, White - who have raced with Armstrong and this doping regime. Were you curious about that? Was it a conversation you ever had?

DM: I think I just accepted that it happened. I believed they did what they did and regretted it. I wasn't going to judge them for that.

PK: I'm not asking you to judge them. I'm just curious, you weren't . . . curious, 'What was it like? What was going on?'

DM: I accepted it was true. I knew it was true. It was almost an explanation for the pessimism I'd had as a kid, that sense that something was going on. And fortunately I didn't know or I might not have gone into the sport.

PK: It might have stopped you?

DM: It's hard to say, because I've always carried that optimism that it was going to get better, and yet obviously, at the start of my career, it was still rife . . . well, maybe not rife, but there was a lot of it going on.

PK: You won the Tour of Poland that year (2010)?

DM: Yeah, (two months) after that Giro that nearly killed me.

PK: Go on.

DM: It was just brutal. I think we had rain on 15 or 16 days. I was so tired by the end of the race I couldn't sleep but it definitely made me stronger, because I rested completely and had a great end of the season. It was an important building block going that deep into my reserves.

PK: You finished second in the Tour of Poland a year later?

DM: Yeah, behind (Peter) Sagan.

PK: But you won a stage?

DM: Yeah, but I was reckless. I attacked with 20km to go on the mountain stage, got caught, attacked again and won. But if I had just saved it for the last climb I probably would have taken the (race). And then we went on to the Vuelta.

PK: Where you also won a stage.

DM: Yeah.

PK: The guy who finished 85th in that Tour of Poland finished second in that Vuelta. He is now a four-time winner of the Tour de France.

DM: Yeah.

PK: Was that a surprise? He had been a pro for three years?

DM: It was definitely a surprise. Funny enough, I remember JV (Vaughters) called me after that Tour of Poland and said, "Look, I've been offered this Chris Froome fella for next year. What do you think?" And I kind of went (exhales) "Phhhh! He's a really nice guy but . . ."

PK: Did you know him?

DM: I hadn't talked to him a lot. I had met him a couple of times when I was an under 23, we're a similar age, and I knew Geraint (Thomas) and Daryl (Impey) had raced with him at Barloworld, and then, yeah, that Vuelta. It was a real case of 'Wow! Where did that come from?'

3 Dark Trade

Another area in which riders seek to improve their performance is through reducing their weight in order to increase their power/weight ratio. Interviewees noted cases of dramatic weight loss in certain riders, which they felt could only be explained by use of performance-enhancing products. The Commission heard that the desire to lose weight might also be leading to an increase in eating disorders amongst riders.

The Cycling Independent Reform Commission, March 2015

PK: The first thing that struck me when we sat down this morning was how thin you are. What weight are you?

DM: I don't obsess over my weight.

PK: That wasn't what I asked.

DM: I don't know. I didn't weigh myself during the Tour.

PK: Or before it?

DM: I think (the team) weighed me before it and I was 61 kilos, but I try not to think about it.

PK: That's unusual because there's such an obsession now in the game with power-to-weight. But you don't obsess?

DM: I don't obsess about anything I eat. This life is far too difficult to live like a monk so if I feel like a glass of wine, I'll have a glass of wine; if I feel like a beer, I'll have a beer. It's all about sustainability. There's a lot of eating disorders in cycling at the moment, especially among young cyclists, and it's wrong. This whole thing about riding on no breakfast! Why? They assume that if you eat less you get skinny, but there's a line with that, you have to also give your body what it needs to compete.

PK: The last interview I did with Nicolas was two years ago in Monaco . . .

DM: (laughs) He's the worst, I've tried to advise him.

PK: We met around lunchtime on the day after Paris-Nice and he had just finished a two-hour ride on a double espresso and a slice of toast! That's insane!

DM: Yeah, it's a leap of faith for sure, and it takes time. I learnt through experience.

PK: What was the experience?

DM: When I went to Marseilles. It was the culture there. The team director would come in and pinch your skin; you're reading all this stuff about power-to-weight and Armstrong doing seven watts-per-kilo or something stupid and think, 'I need to be skinnier.' And you're thinking about it so much that you actually gain weight! So I thought, 'No. I'll just relax and see what happens.'

PK: And it worked?

DM: People are stunned by how much I eat. I remember (having dinner) at an altitude training camp and guys from other teams were horrified: 'How are you so skinny!' Because I smash myself in training and burn it off.

PK: Is that not a gift? Or your metabolism?

DM: No, I don't believe in that.

PK: That's the argument Nicolas would make.

DM: The best metaphor I've heard for it is this - When a fuel light comes on in your car, you don't tend to push the accelerator as hard. Your body is the same, when the tank is full you'll push the accelerator. I train hard, eat well, and my body is 100 per cent the next day.

PK: That interview with Nicolas was just after the CIRC report came out. Did you read it?

DM: No.

PK: Why not?

DM: I don't know, I just . . . I might have read the review parts but I can't remember what was in it.

PK: Here's a paragraph. There is a considerable amount of spin around what being clean means to riders and teams. It can be used today in the same way that the phrase, "I have never tested positive" was sometimes used in the past to suggest that a doping rider had never doped. For the public, the presumption that a rider is clean has been eroded by the scandals over the years.

DM: (Nods)

PK: I'm going to ask you the same questions I asked Nicolas, Are you clean?

DM: Yeah.

PK: What does that mean?

DM: I won't take anything, or ingest anything, to gain an unfair advantage.

PK: Nicolas said, "I'm a rider who has never taken anything that is illegitimate or can be sanctioned in the sport." So a subtle difference.

DM: Yeah, but it's a definition thing again, that same moral dilemma. The anti-doping people have a difficult job. They are relying on people not abusing the system.

PK: There's been a lot of discussion about that recently with regard to Sky and Bradley Wiggins. You were a team-mate of Wiggins (at Slipstream) in '09?

DM: Yeah, I shared a room with him at the pre-Tour (training) camp that year. I don't know Brad well but I have respect for him and what he's done. I don't know how he did it, but I want to believe that he's . . . genuine.

PK: We've had the Fancy Bears leak, the TUEs, the Jiffy Bag saga, the errantly delivered testosterone patches, etcetera, etcetera. It's not easy to give them the benefit of the doubt.

DM: They have been digging a hole and it still hasn't been explained. I don't know. It's strange.

PK: Tom Dumoulin (the Giro d'Italia winner) says it stinks.

DM: (Pauses)

PK: I agree with him.

DM: I think it comes down to ethics and morals.

PK: That is exactly what it comes down to.

DM: But is the rider to blame or the team? Because the teams I've been in would have said, "No (TUE), you don't start." The health of the rider has always come first.

PK: You've never had an injection since you turned pro?

DM: No.

PK: Never?

DM: No. And I'm very proud of that.

PK: You have asthma? Allergies?

DM: Yeah.

PK: How do you treat them?

DM: A seretide inhaler.

PK: Do you need a TUE for that?

DM: No, I write it down on the anti-doping form but it's not technically a TUE.

PK: How many TUEs have you had?

DM: I think you needed a TUE for salbutamol when I first turned pro, or maybe they had just done away with it because I don't remember ever applying for one. So none.

PK: Another area of abuse is anti-depressants, tranquilisers and painkillers - Tramadol. So again, what is clean?

DM: What's clean?

PK: Yeah.

DM: I took Tramadol once and it scared the crap out of me.

PK: When?

DM: The 2010 Giro. I pushed so hard, and made myself so sick that it really terrified me.

PK: A time trial?

DM: No, a long mountain stage. I didn't know what Tramadol was before that race but again, it's the cultural thing, "Try this." I didn't feel happy doing it.

PK: Because the only reason you were taking it was to enhance your performance?

DM: Yeah.

PK: That's the only reason you were doing it?

DM: Yeah.

PK: Everybody gets pushed there.

DM: Yeah, eventually. But since then, no, apart from when I was lying in a hospital bed in agony with a broken collarbone (his Giro crash in 2014).

PK: You've used no other painkillers, or form of painkillers, in a race since?

DM: Paracetamol every now and again.

PK: Nothing during the Tour for your back after you crashed?

DM: I didn't need anything.

PK: What about the continuing abuse of cortisone in the peloton?

DM: I'd like to see it banned completely.

PK: Motors?

DM: I hope not, that would be embarrassing.

PK: It's happened.

DM: Yeah, definitely. You see guys holding onto cars as well, the (team) directors' cars, that's cheating! Or the TV motorbikes and the way they're being used.

PK: Give me an example.

DM: I'm not saying it's being done deliberately but in the Dauphine, when Fuglsang (the race winner, Jacob Fuglsang) got that gap on me, he had four motorbikes in front of him. I was alone! I would have caught him but for those motorbikes. The same in the Tour. We're chasing to get back to the yellow jersey group on the descent of the Galibier. We've nobody around us, but take a look at what was in front of them. It's just unfair, and something that needs to be highlighted.

PK: You finished second to Alejandro Valverde in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and at the Fleche-Wallone this year. You also finished second to him at the 2009 Tour of Catalunya and the 2014 Fleche Wallone. He's a former client of Eufemiano Fuentes and was banned for two years.

DM: Yeah.

PK: Some would say, I would say, that was unfair. That you were robbed of those wins.

DM: Yeah, I mean we've seen that again with the whole (Justin) Gatlin thing this week.

PK: But Gatlin was booed, we celebrate the cheats in cycling. There will be no end of tributes when Alberto Contador retires next month.

DM: Sky were booed at the Tour. It was less aggressive, but I saw it first-hand last year.

PK: Fair enough.

DM: The thing about Valverde is this - in my mind, because (I finished) so close to him, I have to believe he's not doping still. But we don't know about the effects doping has long-term.

PK: You mean the benefits?

DM: Yeah. Has it made him stronger?

PK: I would say it has.

DM: Yeah, it would be like doing a really hard training camp.

PK: So how do we change things? I give Nicolas a hard time for not being more vocal about some of the stuff that's going on. So I'm going to ask the same of you, What do you see as your responsibility to the sport and to changing that culture?

DM: It's difficult. I think we are getting closer to being able to say the sport is clean. The doping cases are getting fewer and fewer. Is that because they're not cheating? Or because they're not catching them? I don't know. I prefer to think the sport is in a better place now. I don't think I would be able to do what I'm doing if it wasn't. The social cost of getting caught is higher for some than it is for others. For me, there would be a line out the door of family and friends waiting to punch me. For others, there is no such stigma and it's still seen as 'part of the job'. Maybe when I retire we'll have another chat and I'll be angrier about being robbed. For the moment, I just have to play with the cards I've been dealt.

PK: You've just finished sixth in the Tour, the highest finish by an Irishman since your uncle in '87. He got a fanfare welcome and an open-topped bus; you got days when you didn't warrant a mention on the evening sports bulletins.

DM (laughs): Yeah, if I hadn't crashed I wouldn't have got any credit. It's only because I broke my back!

PK: Does it bother you?

DM: What?

PK: The lack of acknowledgement?

DM: No, it's not what I do it for. I don't like the attention. We had lunch (today) at this place and the owner was a big cycling fan but I felt almost awkward. I don't enjoy the 'fan' thing. I just see myself as a normal person doing what I love.

PK: And what's the ambition now? Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I'm sure I've heard you say recently, "I think I can win the Tour."

DM: I think I said, "I've learned that I'm capable of winning the Tour."

PK: You honestly believe that?

DM: I don't know.

PK: You either do or you don't.

DM: I think, on a different course, yeah I could have won this year. I don't know how the crash affected me but physically I was good enough. But a lot changes. And I'm as surprised as anybody, because I never believed I would say that.

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