Dan Martin Diary – Final day: When I look back there were really many good memories
My stage win was an obvious highlight but racing in Corsica and Nice too will linger long in the memory as will the support of the Irish fans on Irish Corner Ten
Dan Martin crosses the finish line ahead of Jakob Fuglsang of Denmark, rear, to win the ninth stage of the Tour de France. from Saint-Girons to n Bagneres-de-Bigorre in the Pyrenees. Photo: Laurent Rebours/AP)
The Tour de France ended in twilight on Sunday evening in front of thousands of fans but before then, on Saturday, we had the final mountain stage of the race. For those aiming to get to Paris, it was the last big obstacle, with some hard climbs to cover as well as the first category ascent up to the finish line at Annecy Semnoz.
That final climb was a beautiful one and was one that would normally have suited me really well. I was still sick, though, and was simply trying to get to the finish. I was a little upset that I wasn’t in a position to race up it, but that’s how things are. Instead, I rode up with the Sky riders Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard and Peter Kennaugh. I have known them a long, long time, and was able to congratulate them on the incredible job that they have done in helping Chris Froome win the race.
It was kind of funny that we were all finishing a stage of the Tour de France at the same time, side by side, as years ago we all raced as juniors together. In fact, myself, Stannard and Geraint did the Junior Tour of Ireland on the same team when Ian won the race.
At the time I was part of the British national squad, but declared for Ireland after that.
It’s been a decision that I’ve been very happy with. My mother is from Ireland, of course, and the passion of the Irish supporters has really been brought home to me on this race. The support has really been something else.
There were more of them at the start on Saturday and it was a big morale boost, particularly as the virus I had made me feel really rough.
The illness has kind of defined the last week of my race but when I look back, there were many really good memories. The first one is from the team presentation. While it’s always fantastic to start the Tour de France, we really got an incredible reaction in Corsica. The island was also really stunning, so overall that was a great experience.
The second memory comes from the team time trial. It wasn’t enjoyable at the time because I was incredibly nervous, but riding to fourth place with my Garmin-Sharp team is a bit of a standout.
We didn’t get the result we wanted, with the win eluding us, yet being part of such a fast, tightly-knit formation was something special. There was also an amazing atmosphere with the huge crowds in Nice; I’ll remember that a long time.
Of course, my stage win is also a very big moment from this race. The previous day didn’t go as well as we had hoped and we started stage nine in a mood to really shake things up. We had a lot of fun racing that day . . .we were racing like juniors again, with tactics thrown completely out the window. We were lucky that our sponsors and our management let us do that as a team.
It was such good fun to attack without even thinking, to blitz the peloton. Then for me to actually go on to win the stage was something very special. Walking out on the podium and meeting the French president after all that was an amazing feeling.
I still need to watch it back on video. I have been through so much pain since then that it is a very, very distant memory, kind of surreal. The thoughts of standing on that podium feels like a different world and it will be great to be able to watch it now that the Tour is over.
It might sound peculiar, but my memory of Irish Corner Ten probably even stands above that again. The climb of Alpe d’Huez has numbered corners and about a thousand Irish supporters turned up and took over corner ten on the day of the race.
I’d hoped to do something special but had a virus by that point and it was in survival mode. I was having perhaps one of my worse days ever on the bike, and being able to ride past those people twice was a such a special day. Despite the fact that I was 25 minutes down, all the Irish fans were cheering as if I was leading the race. It was staggering. I have to say thank you so much for that, it really does humble you.
All the other riders in the peloton commented on all the support I was getting – they were impressed by it too.
It might sound like a cliché but that support really helped when things were tough. It gives you focus, it gives you motivation. You are in all the pain in the world, but I really couldn’t stop smiling and laughing at the support.
My cousin Nicolas Roche also had that backing too, and it was also a huge encouragement for him. He worked really hard to help the Saxo Tinkoff squad win the team classification and I am really happy for him.
He played a massive part in that competition and it is wonderful to have an Irishman on the final podium in Paris.
Obviously I do look back and think what could have been.
I really do believe I would have been comfortably in the top ten overall at the end of the race if I hadn’t got sick, but that is all ifs and buts.
Paradoxically, I think looking back that it is might even be a good thing for my career that I have got sick.
That sounds peculiar, but let me explain: I really have learned a lot about myself in the last few days. They have been some of the longest days that I have ever spent on a bike, but you really do learn how to suffer.
I have also experienced what it is like to ride gruppetto and to understand what the sprinters have to endure every mountain stage in every race they do. For those of us who can climb well, we are at the front battling it out. But for those behind, just trying to survive and reach the finish, it is really a different type of racing.
So now the Tour is over and attention will turn – gradually – to what lies ahead. I’m supposed to do the Classica San Sebastian next weekend but we’ll have to see about that as I need to get over this virus.
I might make an appearance at a couple of the post-Tour criteriums. That hasn’t been negotiated yet, but I’d like to do some, just for the fun factor. I did one after Liege and it was a great atmosphere.
We will see.
Beyond that, I’m down to do the Vuelta a España. I’ll definitely head there with ambition. There’s something like 11 mountain top finishes and I’ll definitely be targeting stages there.
I’ll take the same approach as I did with the Tour: treat each stage like a one-day race, ride aggressively and see how things work out for the overall. Then, after that, the World Championships in Italy in September will be a big target. The course is good for me and it’ll be a major target.
The Tour may be over, the dust may be settling, but there’s plenty of important racing left to do.