Expectations are high Ireland’s Dan Martin can play prominent role in Tour de France

Also riding the race is his compatriot Nicolas Roche, who will be riding for Spaniard Alberto Contador’s Saxo Tinkoff squad

Nicolas Roche (left) and Dan Martin, who begin their Tour de France challenges in Corsica. Photograph: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Nicolas Roche (left) and Dan Martin, who begin their Tour de France challenges in Corsica. Photograph: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Fri, Jun 28, 2013, 01:00

Having made his debut 12 months ago but was hampered by illness, Dan Martin looks set for a more prominent role in this year’s Tour de France. The Irishman was confirmed this week as one of the Garmin-Sharp squad’s three team leaders and, given his strong form this season, will start with realistic targets of a stage win plus a possible top-10 finish in the overall classification.

Apart from becoming physically stronger and more consistent, the 26-year-old has also had an important confidence boost this season, thanks to his victories in the Volta a Catalunya and the Liège-Bastogne-Liège Classic. They were his key targets in the first part of the year, while the Tour de France is the second.

Martin took a break from racing after Liège and then built back up again. He clocked up three top-10 stage placings and eighth overall in the recent Tour de Suisse and with his form continuing to rise after that, will be highly motivated starting the Tour in Corsica tomorrow.

Providing things go to plan, Martin will have a chance to test his legs very early on. While stage one of the race is pan flat, Sunday’s leg looks much more interesting and features four categorised climbs.

Cause splits
The second category ascent of the Col de Vizzavona comes 60 kilometres from the finish in Ajaccio and although that is sufficiently far from the line to allow a regrouping, the short, steep ramp of the Côte du Salario is close enough to the end to cause splits.

After that, Tuesday’s 25-kilometre team time trial in Nice will be the next important test for Martin and his Garmin-Sharp squad.

Also riding the race is Martin’s compatriot Nicolas Roche. In previous years he was the shielded rider on the Ag2r La Mondiale team but moved to Alberto Contador’s Saxo Tinkoff squad over the winter. He will ride for the Spaniard in the race, trying to help him take what would be his third Tour de France title.

That role means that Roche’s own personal goals will be limited. However, he believes that Irish fans could have something important to look forward to from his cousin.

“I think anything is possible from Dan. Dan has showed over the years now that he has progressed and he is more and more stable; before, he was one of the best riders two or three times a year, but he would also have some quieter moments,” he said yesterday.

“But this year has been very impressive. I saw him in the airport today, he looked as fit as ever. I think Dan can break into the top 10 if everything goes right for him. I definitely see him trying something cheeky at some point in one of the mountain stages, an unexpected attack. He could pull off a stage win in the Tour – it would be great to get an Irish win on a stage. That hasn’t happened in a while.”