Ireland will be represented by just two riders in the men’s road race at the Olympic Games today — cousins Dan Martin and Nicolas Roche.
Martin arrived in the Brazilian capital last Sunday, just over a week after a career-best performance in the Tour de France where he finished ninth overall.
He followed that up with another top performance (12th) at the Clasica San Sebastien last weekend — Roche was ninth — and those displays have given hope they can challenge for a medal in the 236km showdown, which features 3,600m of climbing.
Martin won Liége-Bastogne-Liége and the Tour of Lombardy in 2013, two routes similar to the one that faces riders today.
But instead of the backing of full teams, he only has Roche for company this time around thanks to a convoluted quota of riders’ qualifying system.
It also gives the Etixx-QuickStep man confidence that his two best Tour of Lombardy showings — his 2014 victory and his second place in 2011 — came on the back of his seventh place in the 2014 Vuelta a España and his 13th place in 2011.
“I’ve had the best run-in to the race possible, the Tour de France has left me with heavy legs and a little tiredness but it’s the ideal preparation to be in the best condition possible,” says Martin.
“As soon as they announced the route we were very happy,” he says of the mood in the Irish camp. “There’s only two other long, hilly races like it on the calendar and I’ve won both so I’m definitely going to be watched as one of the favourites…
“Looking at the course, if it was a normal race with normal tactics I’d be really confident but with small teams it’s hard. In London, Team GB thought they had it done with Mark Cavendish but the race got completely out of control and the same will happen [today].
"There’s no team orders, it’s impossible to make guys give up their chance of winning a medal for each other because it’s one of the few races in the year where we get to race for ourselves and for our country.”
For Martin, the brutal terrain he’ll tackle is good news given his slight stature, and he makes no secret of the favourites’ tag he’ll wear.
“I’m nearly sure that the winner will be someone who rode the Tour de France because it’s just training you cannot get at home.
"The Tour gives you that strength and I’ll need it all [today] Tactically it’s almost impossible to predict, though. It’ll be about having good legs on the day but also getting lucky and making the right moves.
“The Olympics is unlike any other race we do but the experience of London four years ago will help me. I know now the race will be chaotic.
“London was all new and exciting but I sat back too much; I waited for the race to come back together and I hesitated. You can’t hesitate; if you hesitate the race is gone.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved