Sightings of Irish riders at the Tour de France are infrequent – only ten have raced the Tour in its 100-year history – but those who do are frequently successful. On Sunday, Garmin-Sharp’s Dan Martin became the fifth Irishman to win a Tour stage, after Seamus Elliott, Sean Kelly, Martin Earley and Stephen Roche.
It was a result that came as no surprise to those who follow the sport closely, for success runs in Martin’s blood. Father Neil was an Olympic cyclist and his uncle is none other than Stephen Roche. (Roche’s son Nicolas, who riders for Saxo-Tinkoff, is Martin’s cousin.)
2008-12: Laying the foundations
Martin turned pro with Garmin in 2008, winning both the Route du Sud stage race and the Irish national championship road race in his debut season.
He’s getting quite more consistent as he gets older. He’s always been a winner.
Garmin team boss Jonathan Vaughters
Since then he has picked up a succession of increasingly impressive results, despite persistent allergy problems which have at times hampered him during hayfever season. He was the overall winner of the Tour of Poland in 2010. On his debut grand tour at the 2011 Vuelta he finished 13th overall and won a stage. From there, he went on to finish second at the climbers’ autumn classic Il Lombardia.
Last year his progression continued apace with an impressive spring campaign: fourth at the Volta a Catalunya, sixth at Fleche Wallonne, fifth at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. He then made his Tour debut, quietly recording a couple of minor top-ten placings en route to 35th overall.
2013: The breakthrough year
If Martin’s progression through his first five seasons could be categorised as steady, this year has seen his personal curve embarking on a gradient as steep as the climbs he so clearly loves. He won the Volta a Catalunya in March – effectively his ‘home’ race as, like many cyclists, he is based in Girona – and he did it the hard way, attacking solo on the final climb of the queen stage after being in the break all day. From there, he again tackled the Ardennes classics, finishing fourth at Fleche Wallonne before moving on to Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
There was a moment about 5km from the finish, when Martin was sitting comfortably in the select front group, where I declared:
Watch out for Dan Martin on this finish #lbl
— Tim Liew (@timliew) April 21, 2013
And then this happened:
More than just his climbing ability, his winning attack – in which he overhauled Joaquim Rodriguez, who this finish suited perfectly – underlined his nous as a racer. Martin can be an explosive rider and he has the ability to grind out a hard tempo on long climbs, but he is neither the most explosive nor does he possess the biggest engine. Don’t get me wrong, he has an immense talent, but it’s allied to a keen racing brain which gives him the edge over many of his rivals. When Dan Martin gets himself into a position to contest a win, he is going to win far more than he loses.
Which is exactly what happened on Sunday. In a two-up finish, Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang was always going to end up second-best.
A new generation?
Just as important as his ability, results and the panache with which he rides, Martin is refreshingly outspoken and unequivocal in his support for a strong anti-doping stance, which makes him something of a poster boy for a new, cleaner generation of cyclists. His Liege-Bastogne-Liege win was hailed by many as further proof that clean riders can compete and win. Without being overly zealous, it’s clear that Martin is a likeable – and well-liked – young man who isn’t afraid to stand up for what he believes in.
This 100th Tour represents a potential watershed in Martin’s career. At 26, now is the time for him to demonstrate that he can compete in a three-week grand tour. A strong finish here – he went into today’s rest day eighth overall, 2:28 down on Chris Froome – could elevate him alongside Ryder Hesjedal as Garmin’s twin grand tour leaders. But even if he doesn’t end up down this route, a successful future in the climbers’ classics surely awaits him.