Dan Martin’s Tour de France Diary: I feel better than I have ever done
The work is done; now I just need to get through that tricky first week in one piece
Dan Martin: “I had a frustrating spring with crashes and I’m really motivated to do something in this Tour.” Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill
Anyone who follows professional cycling in general, and the Tour de France in particular, knows that this sport is a very unpredictable one.
The opening week of the Tour de France is chaotic, with the general classification riders and their domestiques fighting to the front to try to avoid time losses and to stay out of trouble, while the sprinters and their leadout trains are also battling for position.
Add in high winds, rapid speeds and narrow roads and crashes always happen.
Providing I can steer clear of them, though, there is reason to be optimistic about the three weeks ahead.
Unlike other years when I was building up for the Tour de France, this time around I did the Critérium du Dauphiné rather than the Tour de Suisse.
I’m really pleased with how that went. Although I hadn’t done much high intensity work before the race, my legs really responded well. On the first day I was suffering on the wheels, suffering on the climbs. But every day I just felt better and better.
While I wasn’t in the mix for the stage victory on the first mountain stage, placing 11th, I felt much better on stage seven to Mont Blanc. I had some bad luck with a flat tyre, being delayed at the side of the road for over a minute, but by the time I got to the finish I was only one minute 40 seconds behind the winner Chris Froome.
That was really encouraging as to how my form was. On the last day I put in a pretty good performance too after what was such a hard week’s racing and having gone into the race a bit tired from training.
The aim of the Dauphiné wasn’t really for me to get a result, but rather to help my team-mate Andrew Talansky, who won last year, and to sharpen up. However I still ended up seventh overall, which was pleasantly surprising.
Doing that race was a good change from my usual pre-Tour programme of the Tour de Suisse. The latter ends one week closer to the Tour so you rest afterwards. However the Dauphiné is earlier and so I was able to go up to my house in Andorra and do another week’s solid mountain training before the Tour.
The net result of all that is I am really happy with my condition. In fact, it is probably the best fitness I have had going into a Grand Tour. I feel better than I have ever done. It’s the first three week race I have gone into where I have been really satisfied with my preparation. The work is done; now I just need to get through that tricky first week in one piece.
Staying out of any spills is a priority, even if there is an element of luck to it. I had a frustrating spring with crashes and I’m really motivated to do something in this Tour. In general this season I feel that I am stronger than previous years. I haven’t quite proven it in the results yet, but I’ve got three weeks to prove it now.
So, what are the first targets?
Right now I’m thinking most about Monday’s third stage, running from Antwerp to Huy. That’s the one that stands out for me as the first big opportunity. It ends on the Mur de Huy – Mur means “wall”, which gives an idea of how steep the final climb is.
Each year the Mur is the finish of Flèche Wallonne. I’ve taken second, fourth, sixth and ninth in it, so it really suits my characteristics well. I am always one of the favourites going into that race so to have a stage of the Tour de France ending there means I will go in as one of the favourites there too.
Having that status for a Tour stage is pretty exciting. It’s also a chance of redemption for what happened in Flèche Wallonne this year, as I crashed out and didn’t get the chance to try for the victory.
There are time bonuses available for the stage and going for the yellow jersey has definitely entered our thoughts. Obviously Saturday’s 13.8 kilometre individual time trial in Utrecht is key to shooting for the yellow jersey; the aim is to do as good a time as is possible, limit any losses to the fastest riders there, then try for the win on Monday.
Things break up a lot on the Mur de Huy and we’ll be hoping that whomever has the yellow jersey starting the stage will finish back on the climb and lose time. That plus the win bonus could be enough; I’ll try to do the best ride that I can and see where things end up.
At the very least, a good ride there and on the Mur de Bretagne at the end of stage eight should put me in a good position overall heading into the team time trial and then the big mountain stages.
Under scrutinyLicence Commission
I’ve been asked if this I feel the sport is slipping back at all on the progress made in recent years. Well, my feeling is that it is definitely in a good place. I am going into the Tour de France with a possibility of a podium finish, so the situation is definitely improved from ten years ago.
Obviously there are always going to be little blips, somebody is going to try to beat the system, but hopefully they will find the cheats.
Hopefully it will be a clean Tour de France this year.