Wednesday 24 April 2019

Expectation and danger line Martin's road to Paris

Dan Martin: ‘I always say that the Giro is far more difficult physically than the Tour de France, but it’s the mental strength that you need on the Tour’. Photo: Getty
Dan Martin: ‘I always say that the Giro is far more difficult physically than the Tour de France, but it’s the mental strength that you need on the Tour’. Photo: Getty

Fergus McDonnell

When the 176 riders line up for the Grand Départ of the Tour de France on Saturday their heads will be filled with a whirlwind of hopes, dreams, fears and ambitions.

Dan Martin's focus will be quite simple - to get to Paris 22 days later having avoided illness and injury. That is the only way, he believes, that he can answer the question most asked of him: Is he good enough to win the general classification?

Last year, having suffered what was later diagnosed as two broken vertebrae on stage nine, Martin still managed to finish in sixth place, confirming the belief he has the skills, stamina and determination to mount a serious challenge.

"I don't set results as goals," he said as his final preparations for the race were drawing to a close. "I would love to be able to answer that question - of how far can I go in the Tour de France, how far up the classification can I go without something bad happening. The only way to answer that question is to do it, but it turns out that I've probably chosen the hardest Tour de France ever to avoid that happening, with the cobblestones and the crosswinds and the flat first 10 days.

Martin was also keen to stress the qualities needed to survive the Tour. "I think the hardest thing about the Tour de France, the thing that took me so long to pursue that race, to go for the GC, is the mental battle, the stress involved, the concentration required. You never get a kilometre off, never mind a day off. You can lose the race at any point on any day. And that's pretty crazy that you can go through three weeks at that level. It's a lot.

"I always say that the Giro is far more difficult physically than the Tour de France, but it's the mental strength that you need on the Tour, that level of pressure, of expectation; but also there are people on the side of the road the whole way and that isn't just pressure, that's danger.

"How many times have you seen guys hit spectators on the side of the road? I've hit people and I've been lucky enough not to have crashed, but it still hurts. That level of concentration, not just on the bike, but off the bike as well for nutrition, for recovery, it sounds stupid but going to bed early every night for four weeks, and having to go to bed early, it's that regimented lifestyle, it takes a hell of a lot out of you."

Martin changed teams from Quick-Step Floors to UAE Team Emirates for this year and the move was not without its knock-on effects as he struggled to find his early-season form.

"The environment that you're in is crucial. How many footballers do you see who go to a team . . . Kevin De Bruyne, he was at Chelsea and he was useless and then suddenly . . . the people around you make a difference. I think psychology is so important. That was a massive part of my start to the season. I was fit. I was coming to every race thinking, 'I can win this.' I'm good in training, everything's gone perfect and suddenly, Paris-Nice, yeah it was more the sickness that put me down.

"Then Catalunya . . . Catalunya was really the start because I hadn't really got a result until then and I started feeling a bit of pressure maybe. Not really pressure from the outside, but I started putting pressure on myself. I was going into races thinking I had worked so hard for so many months over the winter, all the sacrifices. I still hadn't won any races and I started trying too hard. It had all started to come together on the last day and I had a crash. It was almost at though I couldn't get a break.

"The low point was obviously La Flèche Wallonne. It's a race that I've tried so hard to win, and maybe I've tried too hard to win it. I put myself in the wrong position at the wrong time and then I got caught up in a crash and didn't make it back on, and I was like 'ok'.

"Then I got my head sorted for Liège-Bastogne-Liège and I think you saw the real Dan Martin back at Liège and then I got a flat tyre. And by having such a run of bad luck, fortune, results, whatever, it did sort of press that reset button and you think that it's not worth stressing about results, you've got to just start enjoying it again."

And he has been enjoying it. The Criterium du Dauphine yielded a stage win, one second, one third and a fourth-place finish overall.

"Yeah, I'm happy to be back on track. I knew I was fit all year but something always went wrong. Maybe it was luck, but I hate using that word 'luck'. You can cry every time you have a crash or get sick or something but at the end of the day what goes around comes around and you have to make the most of the luck that you get."

So where will the race be won and lost? "Seeing the course, it's incredibly hard, if you have a bad day . . . but I think that's what this Tour is going to be about, everybody has a bad day on the Tour de France, it's just a case of whose bad day is the least bad. Or when it falls, if it falls on a flat stage great, but if somebody has a bad day on that time trial (the final stage before the parade into Paris). I was going over the last climb in the TT, not as hard as I can go but very, very uncomfortably hard and I was going 17kph, it's that steep. And being the last stage, after some really difficult mountain stages, that one last push could be a push too hard for some."

Dan Martin is a Garmin Ambassador and uses the 520 Plus as part of his training ad racing. "It (the Garmin 520 Plus) will be incredibly useful on the Tour because you can use the maps on the downhills. It might surprise some people but when you're coming off a downline at 80kph, you have the downhill maps in front of you and you can see where the corners are. We don't get the chance to recon everything so having that facility will hopefully give us a bit of an advantage."

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