Martin's time has come to stage a fight for the King of the Mountains jersey
CYCLING:In advance of his new Irish Times diaries throughout the Tour de France, which starts today, Dan Martin talks targets, injuries, tactics and what it means to compete for Ireland, writes SHANE STOKES, Cycling Correspondent
IRISH CLIMBER Dan Martin won a stage in last year’s Vuelta a España and ended the year ninth in the world.
Rewind the clock two decades and there were, for the last time, two Irish riders competing in the world’s biggest annual sporting event.
Seán Kelly was riding the last of his 14 Tours, netting placings of ninth and 10th on stages en route to a quiet finishing position of 43rd overall. A long career which had brought many victories plus a multi-year stint as world number one was gradually winding down, the sands of energy running out.
Kelly’s younger compatriot Stephen Roche was also there and was having a better Tour, winning the fog-shrouded 16th stage to La Bourboulle and placing ninth overall. Roche would retire the following season, ending his career emotionally on the Champs Elysees, while Kelly would persist until 1994 but never again ride the Tour.
It’s a reflection of the improving standard that today, 20 years on, two Irish riders will once again line out in the race.
Ag2r La Mondiale leader Nicolas Roche will compete in his fourth edition, while Dan Martin has got the nod from his Garmin-Sharp team, his selection coming after several near-misses in the past. He’s 25, he’s been clocking up big performances: it’s time.
Martin may not be as well known as Roche in this country, but that could all change over the next three weeks. A strong climber and a quick sprinter from a small group, his past results include a stage win and 13th overall in last year’s Vuelta a España, second in the prestigious Giro di Lombardia Classic, victory in the Tour of Poland and a collection of other strong results.
He ended last year as a fine ninth overall in the world tour rankings, and should grow stronger over the next three to four seasons. In short, he’s one of the top young talents in the sport.
What does that mean for this year’s Tour? His Garmin-Sharp team manager Jonathan Vaughters is clear on what he thinks could be possible. “I am excited and nervous for him. He is such a talented rider when he is riding well, but when he loses a bit of morale it’s different. But if Dan is firing at his full potential, he could achieve a lot,” he told The Irish Times.
“It would be great if he could win the mountain jersey. If he wins a stage instead, I will be equally happy. It is Dan’s first Tour de France and I just want him to focus on learning about the race and racing aggressively on the terrain that is good for him.”