Having challenged in recent years, Ireland’s Dan Martin is now looking to emulate his uncle, Stephen Roche and win the Tour de France. Now a father to twin girls and hitting his peak at 32, Martin is quietly confident he can improve on his eighth place last year and this could be his year, writes
How is fatherhood treating you?
It’s been busy with the twins. I realised that I wasted a hell of a lot of free time before — just looking at the internet or watching TV and stuff. Now it’s bike, eat, kids, sleep. That’s basically all I have time to do. It has been amazing though. It changes your life and it has given me a new outlook in many regards.
I’m waking up earlier but I’m also going to bed earlier. All my time after training is just spent on the sofa holding them and playing with them. It has definitely focused me in on life a bit more and I spend a lot more time just relaxing at home — usually with a baby in my arms which is good because it gives you a bit of strength as well. I don’t think anything can prepare you for the difference it makes to your life.
How has your early season been?
As far as training goes I feel everything has gone perfectly. The new team atmosphere and environment is much better this year. The new coaching staff have revamped the team and it has all been very positive. I’m working with a new coach and I haven’t missed any training because of the twins and we’ve been very fortunate up till now that they have been good sleepers.I actually feel better now than I have ever done for this point in the season.
How do you look back on the last 11 years as a pro?
Even at the early stage of my career I never really had expectations, and I still don’t to an extent. I have results under my belt and I’ve built up respect in the peloton so I feel like anything else is a bonus. When the enjoyment stops, I’ll stop. As long as I’m racing with a smile on my face I think the results will follow.I have achieved far more than I imagined was possible when I was a kid. At this point in my career I don’t really feel any pressure anymore, everything else is a bonus from now on. I just focus on enjoying racing.
You haven’t raced the Irish National Championships since 2014, why not?
The course in 2014 was probably the last Irish nationals that actually suited me. They seem to be on flat courses every year. It’s unfortunate that I can’t go back and fight for the national jersey again but it’s always just too close to the Tour de France. There is too much travelling and risk involved when you have the Tour the following weekend and obviously the Tour is the big show and the big aim for the season. My last time racing in Ireland was at the Giro in 2014 when I crashed and obviously that didn’t go to plan.
Do you have good memories of racing in Ireland?
One of my best memories riding in Ireland was the Gorey 3 day race on the Easter weekend when I was still a junior. That’s where it all started for me. I watched my Dad racing the Gorey from the side of the road in 2001 and 2002 and I rode it myself in 2003 and 2004. I managed to win it in 2004 alongside my Dad, who was riding as my domestique. It was a special moment to share together.
At that stage did you ever think you’d go on to win at the highest level?
I always believed that it was possible to compete clean and I still do. The performance has always been more important than the result for me. I never expected to win big races like Liege or Lombardia. I guess I guard myself from being disappointed by not setting expectations. Regardless of what I say I’m just going to go out and race my bike as fast as I can.
You turned pro in 2008 when cycling was in a dark place doping wise — have you seen a change in riders performances since then?
It’s hard to say because I’ve gotten stronger as an athlete. There has been a massive culture change. The sport has done an incredible job of cleaning itself up. I think I arrived on the scene at exactly the right moment because it was in the years when the sport was tidying up it’s act. If I had started five years previous I don’t think I’d have had the same results. I just wouldn’t have been able to compete clean. Now the playing field has changed.
Does it frustrate you that cycling is still painted as a dirty sport?
Cycling is doing what other sports are not by putting a stringent anti-doping system in place. At the end of the day, if you are going to do more testing you are going to catch more guys. When you look at the number of tests conducted in cycling you see that there really isn’t that number of positives. It’s one of the lowest percentages relative to other sports. Most of the doping cases now are happening away from the World Tour at the lower levels. When you say that then people automatically assume that the top guys just aren’t getting caught, but it’s not the case. Our physical condition is constantly monitored now with the blood passport system and I think a lot of riders are running scared now. So cycling is in a very good place.
You had a stage win at the Tour de France last year but crashed a few days later. Was it a bittersweet race?
(Laughs) Every one of my Tours has been bittersweet. It’s never boring following me, is it? The crash last year really hurt. My back took a long time to heal. The stage victory was amazing and winning the red number for most combative rider and standing on the podium in Paris was the icing on the cake. The fact that it was voted for by people as well made it special. All of my attacks and my aggression isn’t just for TV, it’s to gain time and to get results.
Have you seen the route for the 2019 Tour?
It suits me. I was really happy when I saw it. The fact that you have mountain stages scattered throughout the race instead of 10 days flat and 10 days hard is good. I would have liked maybe one more mountain-top finish but it’s very similar to the 2016 route which was the best Tour for me on paper. Winning the Tour de France is not just a physical test but a mental one as well.
Do you have unfinished business at the Tour?
I feel like I have unfinished business at the Tour purely because I’ve never had a clear run at it. I’ve never gone through the Tour without sickness or crashes, so in my mind I don’t really know what I’m capable of yet, so that’s exciting. It’s just a buzz for three weeks and I just loved every minute of it last year. Almost all the interviews in the last week of the race started with “You’re the only guy smiling at the start line because everybody else is feeling the pressure.” I just think - What’s the point of feeling the pressure? We’re in an incredibly fortunate position. Every single one of the people cheering on the side of the road would kill to be in our position so why wouldn’t you enjoy it? It’s stressful, nervous and incredibly important to a lot of people but I just find that I can ignore that pressure better with a smile on my face.
Can you win it?
If I can get to Paris without misfortune… who knows what’s possible? For sure I’d love to win it and I’m definitely going to have some fun trying.