Dan Martin: Worn out and preparing to climb Alpe d’Huez
`The last time we went up it the fans had set up what they called Irish corner'
Dan Martin greets fans before the start of Stage 19 of the Tour de France between Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne and La Toussuire. Photograph: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
So, one last mountain stage, and the sparks will be flying on Alpe d’Huez. Everyone is getting really worn out, but many in the peloton will still hope to do something on that climb as it is iconic.
The past few days in the Tour have been incredibly hard. We had the second rest day earlier this week and since then the peloton has raced really aggressively.
For example, on Friday’s stage I think we were down to just 20 guys at the top of the first climb, with the hammer really going down early on. It seems the same each day – overall contenders are going in the early attacks rather than the usual breakaway riders, and that blows the race apart.
I’m still getting over bronchitis, so it has been pretty hard. I am just about healthy enough to be there but I am suffering. I’ve been able to get into the breakaway at times and help my team-mates.
Three of us were in the move on Thursday and when that happens you have to choose one; Andrew [Talansky] said he was feeling very good and we backed him.
It didn’t pay off with a stage win but we gave it our best shot and did what we could for him.
As soon as I got popped, I just rode up the climb easy. The same happened on Friday – I think I was only six or seven minutes down at the bottom of the last climb but at the finish line I was about 20 minutes because I’d eased back so much.
It really shows how you can try to take it easier in the Tour with the aim of recovering a bit more. Hopefully I will be fresher on Saturday than the general classification guys and have a real stab at the stage at Alpe d’Huez.
For me, in addition to it being one of the top stage finishes in the Tour, it is also special for another reason. The last time we went up it the fans had set up what they called Irish corner and the support was incredible.
The climb is already known for having a great atmosphere and for us at least, it really added to it.
We last did the climb in 2013 and I was having a pretty bad day at the time. I was really ill and suffering a lot.
However, despite that, it was a great experience because of the phenomenal support the Irish fans gave myself and Nicolas [Roche].
The number of tricolours out there again on Friday was amazing. We have incredible support. I don’t know if there is a direct flight from Dublin to the Alps, but it certainly seems like it as there are so many people by the side of the road shouting for us.
We really appreciate it. I talked to Nico and Sam Bennett about it during the Tour and we agreed it is great to see that support by the side of the road. It is such a big boost.
Speaking of Sam, it was sad to see him stop the race. I was trying to talk to him every day, just trying to keep his spirits up as he was getting more and more tired.
He chose one of the hardest Tours ever to make his debut. It has been a really difficult race with the heat and the course, as well as the climbing and the way it has been raced.
There hasn’t been a single straightforward sprint stage where you can relax and that made it hard for him.
Still, I am sure he will get stronger from the experience and he will come back here more hungry to get to Paris for that final sprint.
So do I think he can win a stage in the years to come?
Well, firstly I’d say it depends on how many sprint stages there will be in the race. You can see this year there has been hardly been any; that seems to be the way cycling is going. But that might change again.
Sam’s only been a pro a year and a half but he has already clocked up several wins. He’s definitely got potential and a lot of speed, but it also takes time.
One thing that is always said about the Tour de France is that you can be super fast but it is actually all about getting to the finish line. A sprint stage in the Tour has got a few thousand meters climbing which is a mountain stage in other races.
So it is just the speed, the stress and everything which makes this race the most difficult in the world.
Anyway, Sam definitely has the speed to be doing it. I think this experience will make him a long stronger, mentally and physically. It is going to stand him in good stead for the future, and now he knows what to shoot for.