Dan Martin to end career in style before chasing ‘exciting new challenges’ in life

One of the best Irish riders ever, he won a rare hat-trick in the three Grand Tours

Dan Martin celebrates his win at the Giro d’Italia in May. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Dan Martin celebrates his win at the Giro d’Italia in May. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

 

The news that Dan Martin has decided to retire at the end of the current racing season will come as a surprise to many in the sport, not least because of recent reports that he was in talks with at least two teams to continue.

One month ago the website Cyclingnews quoted Cedric Vasseur, the manager of the French team Cofidis, as saying he was interested in signing Martin. The Irish cyclist was also linked with extending his current contract with the Israel Start Up Nation squad he joined in 2019.

Martin’s stage victory and 10th overall finish in this year’s Giro d’Italia showed that he still has the ability to win big. And while he is 35 years of age, he could well have eked out a couple more successful seasons had he decided to continue onwards.

However, in a statement released this weekend, he said it was time to stop. “After 14 seasons as a professional cyclist, I have decided to call it a day,” he said. “Though this huge decision has taken much thought, I feel that the time is right to move on as I want to achieve so many other things in life.

“In some ways, deciding to stop has been challenging and complex; it’s perhaps one of the biggest and most important decisions I have ever made; and in other ways, it’s been easy. Though I am still competitive, I’ve realised that racing has lost the fun element: the whole reason I race in the first place.”

Martin has long spoken about having ‘fun’ in the sport. He has taken enjoyment out of attacking when others have sought to conserve energy, something which saw him launch numerous attacks in the 2017 Tour de France despite having fractures in his back from a crash. That same spirit saw him being awarded the most aggressive rider award one year later.

He acknowledged that riding in a more conservative manner might have helped his general classification ambitions, but said that it was important for him to be able to enjoy the sport and to liven things up. In other words, to be unpredictable, to be a little impulsive, to race through instinct rather than inhibition.

When it paid off, it’s that same racing instinct which has made his career so exciting. Martin is one of the best Irish riders of all time, ranking alongside his uncle Stephen Roche, Sean Kelly and Shay Elliott as having won some of the biggest races in the sport. He took Tour de France stage wins in 2013 and 2018, stages in the Vuelta a España in 2011 and 2020, and this year completed a rare hat-trick in the three Grand Tours by winning stage 17 in the Giro d’Italia.

He’s also finished in the top 10 of those Grand Tours on six different occasions. Those included fourth overall in last year’s Vuelta a España plus sixth in the 2017 Tour de France, despite those fractures to his back. Had he had a little more luck, a little less misfortune, a podium finish at the Tour may well have been possible.

But Martin has taken other significant results too, including the 2013 Liège-Bastogne-Liège and 2014 Il Lombardia Classics, the 2010 Tour of Poland and the 2013 Volta a Catalunya. Each are a testament to his physical ability and his racing instinct, and each are a result of his attention to detail.

Still, there comes a time to move on. Looking back at this season, two things stand out as significant. The first was when Martin revealed in June that he had got Covid ‘pretty bad’ last March. The second was his statement after losing several minutes on the dangerous 11th stage of the Giro d’Italia, where the riders battled it out on slippery gravel roads.

“I promised my wife this morning that I wouldn’t crash,” he said then. “For me personally, cycling’s not worth the risk.

“There were guys, like, crashing all around me in the first section (of gravel). I just did my own pace and then I nearly came back. But my licence says ‘road cycling’. So (gravel) is not my thing. Fair play to the guys who were in the front, but I just didn’t want to take the risk today and that’s it.”

Martin’s focus on the bigger picture is informed by several things. The first is his wife Jess, a former international athlete who competed for Britain in the 2016 Olympics, and his twin girls. They are a huge part of his life and spending long periods of time away from them training and racing has become one of the costs of the job.

The second is his intellect; he was a high achiever in school and can draw on that as he shapes a new life.

Thirdly, he has already been building business interests and so, unlike many other pro riders who remain in the sport as long as possible, he is able to move on at a time of his own choosing.

What’s next?

“Giving 100 per cent to what I do has always been how I operate,” he said in a statement. “Though I could continue racing for a few years to come, and for many, this would seem like the obvious thing to do; I am at a point where I’m ready to take on some exciting new challenges in life. I feel fortunate to be deciding when I retire.

“What next? I will always be a cyclist; I won’t hang up my wheels, just my race number. During the last few off-seasons and when I’ve had time outside of training and racing, I have found a new sense of purpose and fun in developing companies and working within businesses. This interest led to Rubix Ventures, a company I co-founded with trusted contacts, to help athletes invest in exciting growth companies.

“I’m also looking forward to being more present as a father and husband at home and doing some simple things that are not compatible with the requirements of a cycling career, like going for a run with my wife.”

Fortunately for his fans, he intends on trying to finish with a flourish. He said that he has worked hard in recent weeks in order to bring his career to a close in a successful way. “I am looking forward to having an impact in my final few races and hopefully ending this period of my life in style.”

Given how he has raced over the years, few would rule out another big performance before he finally hangs up that race number.

Dan Martin’s Grand Tour victories

2011 Vuelta a España, stage 9

Martin goes on the attack with his first cousin Nicolas Roche on the final climb of La Covatilla, then presses on alone. He is eventually reeled in by several others, including future Tour de France winners Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, but decisively outsprints them at the summit to win his first stage in a three week race.

“I’ve won a stage in a Grand Tour against some of the world’s best climbers,” he said. “It’s really exciting for the future, but I just think of the present.”

2013 Tour de France, stage 9

Martin becomes only the fifth Irishman in history to win a stage of the Tour de France, joining Shay Elliott, Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and Martin Earley in that regard. Martin ended a 21 year wait since Roche’s last stage win, attacking just over four kilometres from the summit of the day’s final climb, the Hourquette d’Ancizan, he collaborated with Jacob Fuglsang to stay clear until the finish, and then calmly dispatched the Dane in the sprint.

Dan Martin in 2013 after becoming only the fifth Irishman in history to win a stage of the Tour de France. Photograph: Tim de Waele/Getty Images
Dan Martin in 2013 after becoming only the fifth Irishman in history to win a stage of the Tour de France. Photograph: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

“The last 25 kilometres were horrible,” he said. “My legs were hurting so much. I was actually praying to get caught, as I just wanted the pain to be over. Luckily it was a little bit downhill and the wind was kind, so we managed to make it to the finish.

“I know I am fast, so I was confident. I knew you had to be into the last corner first to win and I jumped just before it, curved around the bend and went flat out to the line. I had been feeling nervous and there was a massive relief when I won. It was such an incredible moment.”

2018 Tour de France, stage 6

Three years after taking the runner-up slot on the short, steep Mur de Bretagne climb, Martin went one better to win the stage. He threw down the gauntlet 800 metres into the two kilometre finishing ascent, blasting clear of the best riders in the sport and held them off to the finish.

“I hope my wife hasn’t just gone into labour,” Martin joked, speaking well ahead of the due date in October of that year. “It is a great feeling to actually get a win again. I’d so many second places since I last won at the Tour. I was a bit nervous because of the headwind. Then the race went so hard on the first part of the climb. I saw everybody was on the limit and there were no teammates left. Why not have a try? So I did.”

2020 Vuelta a España, stage 3

Martin had a long wait for victory after that 2018 Tour de France stage win, finally ending a frustrating period by taking stage 3 of the 2020 Vuelta a España. He put in a huge sprint atop the category 1 La Leguna Negra climb, beating race leader Primož Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), Richard Caparaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and several others to the line.

Dan Martin on his way to victory during the 2020 Vuelta a España. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images
Dan Martin on his way to victory during the 2020 Vuelta a España. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images

The win was hugely important to him, not least because he had fractured a bone in his back prior to what would be a difficult and painful Tour de France.

“I’ve come so close this year to winning,” he said in an emotional interview. “I just really wanted to win a stage for this team as they’ve been so good to me. The sponsors have supported us all through Covid. The team (Israel Start Up Nation) was really motivated for the whole of lockdown because of that, to train harder. Obviously with the injury at the Tour we couldn’t win a stage there, but I was really determined to win a stage today.

“The team was amazing, every single one of them played a part in the victory. It’s part for them, and part for my wife. This is the first time I’ve won a race since my kids were born, and it’s really special.”

2021 Giro d’Italia, stage 17

Martin returned to the Giro d’Italia this year after a long absence from the race. In 2014 the event started in Belfast and spent three days in Ireland; that motivated him to perform in the race, but he crashed out in the opening time trial and fractured his collarbone. He ended a seven year absence by lining out in it again in May as his team’s general classification leader.

Time loss on the gravel roads of stage 11 (see above) brought an end to his podium challenge, but he fought back with a superb solo victory on the stage to the top of the Sega di Ala climb.

He was part of the day’s long-range breakaway, whittled down contenders by driving the pace up the penultimate climb of the Passo San Valentino, then unleashed a big solo move with just over 10 kilometres remaining. He then drew on perfect tactics to fend off a huge chase behind by the race favourites.

“I knew from a recon I did of the climb that I just needed to get to two kilometres to go,” he said. “So I rode my pace on the steepest section, just rode a good tempo. And then I really went full gas with two and half kilometres to go, because I knew that if they were coming close I could kill their morale. It wasn’t until then that I went really, really all in.

“I think the shake of the head in the end really says it all. I didn’t believe it was happening. I still can’t believe it is happening.”

Dan Martin’s top career wins

Tour de France stage wins (2013 and 2018)

Vuelta a España stage wins (2011 and 2020)

Giro d’Italia stage win (2021)

Liège-Bastogne-Liège classic (2013)

Il Lombardia classic (2014)

General classification Tour de Pologne (2010)

General classification Volta a Catalunya (2013)

General classification Roude du Sud (2008)

Tre Valli Varesine (2010)

Japan Cup (2010)

Irish road race championships (2008)

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