Ireland’s Dan Martin expects Sunday’s Road World Championships road race in Florence to come down to the survival of the fittest.
After a stellar year capped by April’s win in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic and a Tour de France stage triumph in July, Martin is bidding to claim another high with the rainbow jersey in his sights.
But for a crash in the Vuelta a Espana, which saw Martin abandon the race and spend a lengthy period off the bike nursing his wounds, the 27-year-old Birmingham-born Irishman would be even more bullish about his chances.
As it is, Martin knows home favourite Vincenzo Nibali, Tour de France winner Chris Froome of Great Britain, Spain trio Alberto Contador, Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde and Colombians Nairo Quintana and Rigoberto Uran are in stronger positions entering the 272-kilometre event in Tuscany.
“I’m not as optimistic as I could’ve been, if I had have done the ideal preparation, which would’ve been the Vuelta,” Martin, nephew of 1987 world champion Stephen Roche, told Press Association Sport.
“We’ll see. Anything can happen on the day. This time of year it is a case of one day you’re good, one day you’re bad. It’s the nature of it being the end of the year.
“I think it’s going to be a gradual whittling down of the competition.
“It’s going to be a real endurance race and a wearing down process.
“If you’re still there at the end, it’s going to be... it’s 272km, it’s immense. It’s a huge distance, seven hours.
“It’s going to be a hard race, but that’s what suits me.”
Martin has shown time and again he has the capacity to suffer.
He added: “It would be incredible to be world champion. I already won the unofficial World Championships with Liege.
“This year’s been incredible and whatever else happens is a bonus; I said that straight after Liege.
“It’s not a normal race. It’s the end of the year, some guys are tired, some aren’t.
“Nibali’s said from the start of the year he’s really aiming for it, on home turf.
“All the competitors, the Colombians, Rodriguez, Valverde, they’re coming out the Vuelta strong.
“They’ll be the hardest guys to beat, all the guys who did the Vuelta, and that’s why I wanted to do the Vuelta.”
Martin’s Ireland team-mate and cousin Nicolas Roche did complete the Vuelta, finishing fifth overall behind Chris Horner of the United States.
Roche and Martin could make a big impact on the race.
“Nico’s going to be there a long way into the race and hopefully we’ll both be there in the finale and we can play off each other,” Martin added.
“He’s had a really hard year as well. You don’t know what he’s going to come out with on the day.
“I’m not saying I’m the ultimate leader straight away.
“The form Nico had at the Vuelta, he could be the man as well.”
Like Ireland, Britain favour a tough race, as otherwise the likes of defending champion Philippe Gilbert of Belgium, Peter Sagan of Slovakia and Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara will come into contention.