Dan Martin will begin his final Grand Tour with the Cannondale-Garmin team tomorrow, with the Vuelta a España marking his last three-week campaign in its colours.
The Irishman was yesterday named as one of three protected riders in the nine-man line-up. The other two are the Americans Andrew Talansky and Joe Dombrowski.
He will be one of two Irish riders in the race, with first cousin Nicolas Roche riding for Chris Froome on the Sky team.
Martin won a mountain stage in the 2011 Vuelta and last year finished seventh overall. He is unsure of his form heading into the event but expects to get stronger as it progresses.
He was second, second and fourth on stages of the Tour de France and, with nine summit finishes crammed into the event, has plenty of opportunity to chase a stage win.
He will likely take his usual wait-and-see approach to the general classification, though Talansky’s and Dombrowski’s plans to remain with the team will give them priority because of the world ranking points they could earn.
Martin turned professional with the team for the 2008 season and has stayed with it ever since, winning stages in the Vuelta and Tour de France in its colours. He has also clocked up classic wins in the 2013 Liège-Bastogne-Liège and last year’s Il Lombardia.
He has confirmed that he is leaving the team at the end of the year, and while an official announcement has not yet been made, The Irish Times understands that he will join the Etixx-Quick Step squad prior to the 2016 season.
The Belgian outfit is one of the world's biggest teams. Martin will slot into the role currently occupied by world champion Michal Kwiatkowski, with a continued focus on the hilly classics being a priority.
He will also aim to continue his development as a Grand Tour rider.
Martin’s agent, Eelco Berkhout, seems to believe more is possible in this area, saying: “Of course he still wants to try to do a better general classification, as he thinks he is able to do top five or maybe more in the Giro or the Vuelta or, you never know, the Tour.”
Although Martin is leaving Cannondale-Garmin, the team will continue to have an Irish presence in its ranks, having confirmed this week that it will bring
Eleven months ago the 21-year-old Irishman missed out on gold in the world under-23 time trial championships by just 0.48 seconds, and his talent is obvious. He is aiming to win the title next month and will then turn his thoughts to turning pro in January.
“For me, Cannondale-Garmin is the perfect learning environment,” he says. “They have a wealth of experience between riders and staff, and working with them I will hopefully make big steps forward over the coming seasons.”