Dan Martin is still struggling to come to terms with the fact he is the 2013 Volta a Catalunya champion and only the second Irishman after Sean Kelly to win the race.
“Yeah it’s still quite hard to believe I’ve actually won it,” he beamed yesterday. “I was out training today and I’m actually being noticed here in Girona by complete strangers whereas that wouldn’t have been the case at all before.
“I keep looking at the trophy and picking it up and shaking my head. They kind of teased me all last week because when they gave me the leader’s jersey [on Thursday] they gave me the final trophy too and it was like, ‘ah come on!’… as if to say: ‘you might win this if you keep hold of that jersey’.
“But to actually get it in Barcelona on Sunday against such a spectacular backdrop as well. It was such an amazing feeling, especially with such a crowd there as well.”
Martin, though exhausted from the exertions of riding the week-long Tirreno-Adriatico in Italy a week before and Catalunya straight after, still summoned the energy to describe what defending a slender lead in the home nation of the crowd favourite, Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez was like.
“I started last Friday with a 10-second lead and made it up to 17 with a few shrewd moves that day into Lleida. We didn’t really know what the circuit was like on Sunday because Montjuic has a number of different routes up the climb and the one they went up in the Vuelta last year was super steep.
“We’d heard it was going to be steep but one of my team-mates phoned Purito and talked to him and he told him he wasn’t too optimistic about dropping me so that gave me an insight into how the climb was going to be.
“Once I got onto the circuit I was a bit more confident but Katusha were attacking the hell out of us and it was so fast… one of the hardest day’s racing of the year so far. Katusha really rode a super aggressive race to put us under pressure and I was down to Ryder [Hesjeda] and Tom [Danielson].
“But having those two really strong team-mates by my side really gave me confidence and also the fact that it was nearly four kilometres from the top of the climb to the finish, on big roads because it wasn’t just Purito trying to beat me. There was a whole load of guys trying to win the stage too.
“Once we got to the circuit I was feeling more confident and I was lucky enough to have really good legs as well.
“I felt in control most of the day, I was never losing it. It’s always that anxiousness, that nerves… a mechanical, or a bit of bad luck like a crash anything can happen so you’re always nervous. It was always going to come down to that last lap so I was just focused on Purito’s back wheel. I didn’t even try and go, I just watched him, his cassette and what gear he was in.
“There was no way he was getting rid of me. So the relief when I crossed the finish line, and realised I’d won, it was brilliant.”
Two months ago, Martin told me he knew he was as good as anyone in thepeloton.
But in the brutal sport of professional cycling a champion can become a nobody tomorrow and a nobody can be a champion tomorrow.
It’s a fickle sport at the best of times and even though Martin was ranked ninth in the world a couple of years back, he acknowledges he wouldn’t be recognised walking down the street in Dublin, or anywhere. But that could be about to change.
What’s striking about his win is the feel-good vibes that have emanated from it. He’s proven a popular winner – unlike some in the past. And having half the peloton shake his hand the day after Thursday’s epic stage win was something he wasn’t prepared for.
“The number of guys who came up and congratulated me and guys that I’ve never even spoke to before, I must have been congratulated by half the peloton.
“It was almost like the underdog winning, the popularity of our team as well in the peloton and of course being Irish also helped – we’re quite a popular nation most of the time!
“But the reaction at home as well as here. I’m considered Catalan. I’ve had two front pages on newspapers here. Out training today I’m getting recognised all over the place and it’s kind of a weird feeling. I heard from Rory Wyley [President] and Geoff Liffey [CEO] in Cycling Ireland. It’s incredible to see the effect my win has had, the boost it’s going to give cycling at home, getting it in the headlines.
“It’s amazing to start the year in such a fashion and also, I tweeted last year after the Tour, watching Wiggins win showed it was possible to win clean and now I know.
“I know it’s possible and I’ve proved it’s possible to win clean. It’s a great feeling and I hope I inspire kids out there to pick up a bike.”
The nephew of former Tour de France winner, Stephen Roche, Martin is as passionate about Ireland as he is humble and hopes he can help push cycling back into the public psyche for all the right reasons.
“Yeah definitely, I want to be able to do that and more. Especially at the moment, just after the Giro start next year in Ireland I hope it can give the sport an even bigger boost at home.
“I’ll be back home for the Cycle4Life charity spin in May so hopefully we can have a big crowd there. We have what it takes to become a force in international cycling.
“I’ll help in any way possible, so that we’re at a level where we can compete and win medals in every level and discipline and my win can be replicated by someone else in the future.”
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