Dan Martin’s victory in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège last April has given him a new-found confidence
Irish rider feels his strength on the slopes will see him figure prominently
Dan Martin crosses the finish line to win the 99th Liege-Bastogne-Liege cycle road race last April. Photograph: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Mont Ventoux. Sunday, July 14th. Bastille Day. Two hundred and 42 kilometres, the longest stage, the hot sun, the maddening crowd, leaning around each corner, the last 21km, eight per cent gradient, the barren lunar slopes, onto the Giant of Provence, and in the piecing together of the 100th edition of the Tour de France, all the myth, the obsession, the superstition and enduring tragedy rolled into one stage.
None of this will matter to Dan Martin, who will know every bump and twist on that road, ridden over it countless times already, because that’s what contenders for the Tour do, right?
“Not really,” he says. “I haven’t looked at any stage in detail. Not yet. I don’t think that actually suits me, when it comes to riding a three-week race. Sometimes knowing the roads can be a help, but also a hindrance. If an attack goes, and you know that in another 2km the road gets very hard, you might not be as willing to follow.
“Obviously we’ve got someone in the team who’s been over all the stages. But they always look so different when you race them, anyway. So I’m not sure how effective the reconnaissance trips actually are. For me, they’ve never been important. And the way the weather has been in Europe, this year, a lot of those climbs have been impassable, anyway, until the last few weeks. That’ll make it interesting for everyone.
“But when it comes to the mountains, if you’ve got the legs, you’ll be at the front. And yeah, any time the road goes uphill, I know I have the ability to win that stage. If you can win Liège-Bastogne-Liège, you can win a stage of the Tour.”
Embrun to Chorges, Wednesday, July 17th. Judgement Day. A 32km individual Alpine time trial, two second-category mountains, even for a natural climber like Dan Martin, the most technically challenging day of the Tour, same as any rider still warming towards the maillot jaune, nothing will be left to chance.
Didn’t Fausto Coppi spend hours teasing out the correct wrapping of his handlebar tape? Didn’t Eddy Merckx arrive at the 1970 Tour with 18 bikes, having personally counted out all 1,125 individual components of each one, drilled out for lightness, too?
“Yeah, it’s the one stage I have actually ridden,” he says, “on the way back from the Tour de Suisse, just to check out the course, what type of equipment to use. We just got new time trial bikes although I wouldn’t be obsessive about that, or superstitious, like some riders.
“Except for the shamrock. I do like to have a shamrock on my bike. It’s a little logo I designed myself, my sticker. I’m a little superstitious about that, actually. I started with a shamrock on my bike. Then one time I got a new bike, rode it, and crashed. I didn’t think about it. Then it happened again. Another new bike, no shamrock, and I crashed. Then I started to think about it. Now I don’t ride a bike without a shamrock on it. But I wouldn’t be over the top about it.”
L’Alpe d’Huez. Thursday, July 18th. D-Day. The first of three climactic mountainous stages, deciding the race proper, the 21 sweeping hairpin turns from Bourg d’Oisans to the summit, so good that this time they’ve decided to do them twice, the Col du Glandon and Col de la Madeleine coming less than 24 hours later, such an intensely physically exhausting bout of cycling that Dan Martin will finish the day force-feeding himself bowls of dry pasta, with just a drip of olive oil.
That’s what it takes for any rider to survive in the Tour de France, no?
“Actually we’re fortunate to have one of the best chefs in the peloton,” he says. “Seán Fowler has been with us the last few years, an American, who runs a great restaurant, outside Girona. On last year’s Tour he served up a different dish every night. He’d make a huge salad, some nice hors d’oeuvres, a starter, a main course, and dessert. It’s a full spread, huge variety, and tastes great. That makes it so much easier, because he really does serve up some delights.
“Still, by the end of it all, you do get pretty bored of eating. It does become a bit of a labour. People think, as well, that after the Tour you’d sit back and eat what you want. But when I got home, after last year, I ended up hardly eating at all. I was just so tired of it.