A key to becoming a successful Grand Tour rider is the ability to addresses one's weaknesses. For Quick-Step's Dan Martin the question over consistency was once an issue but the Irishman has turned a one-time vulnerability into a strength with a string of top 10 places this season. Inconsistency and Martin are no longer the bedfellows they once were.
This season the Irishman made the podium in two of the Ardennes Classics and has finished no lower than sixth in any of the stage races he has started. On the eve of Critérium du Dauphiné, he stands as one of the main contenders to challenge for the podium. If he can address one final weakness – his time trialing – then he has an even greater chance of competing for the overall win.
"It's been my best spring in terms of consistency," Martin told Cyclingnews en route to the Dauphiné.
"I've not had a major victory and a certain Spanish fellow has been getting in the way a couple of times but it's been a great, great season so far," he added, referencing his second places to Movistar's Alejandro Valverde in La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
"The consistency has been developing for a couple of years and that's part of it. I've stayed healthy and there's more maturity there as well, and just means that I have less bad days."
The Ardennes aside, Martin's peak performance came at Paris-Nice, where he battled to third overall, only losing second place on the final day of racing. According to Martin that race was a turning point in his season, although it must be added that the time trial – a 14.5-kilometre test to the top of Mont Brouilly – could not have been kinder.
"Being at the front in Paris-Nice was a big step forward. That was an incredibly difficult week of racing and the confidence I got from that race, everything seemed to click. Since then, things have gone really well."
After spending several weeks at altitude in Andorra, Martin turns his attention towards the Dauphiné, where he was third overall behind Sky's Chris Froome and AG2R's Romain Bardet in 2016. This year race contains several difficult days but the pivotal stage is likely to be the 23.5-kilometre test between La Tour-du-Pin and Bourgoin-Jallieu. Martin's form against the clock has shown glimpses of improvement since his move to Quick-Step at the start of 2016 but it remains a weakness when it comes to his stage racing ambitions. As he has down with his consistency, however, Martin has been working on his time trialing and the Dauphine test will provide a key opportunity for him to demonstrate such progress.
"We have a good position from the winter and it's one that I'm comfortable with. It's been fine-tuned and hopefully we can limit the losses and get closer to the fastest guys. It's going to be a good test and it's going to be crucial for the GC. I'll see how I've progressed since we made some adjustments in the wind tunnel in April. I'm more aero and more powerful so hopefully it all clicks."
'Missing Alaphillipe only makes us weaker'
While Martin leads the line for QuickStep Floors in the Dauphine he will have to do it without the support of Julian Alaphillipe with the Frenchman still at home nursing a knee injury. The pair have dove-tailed well together since the start of 2016, often taking it in turns to attack the opposition in the mountains. Without the Frenchman in the team QuickStep's tactics become far simpler to orchestrate but arguably easier to control.
"Julian is great guy to have around and we work well together. You could see that at the Dauphiné last year. We could play off each other and take turns to attack. There are very few teams who have two options and guys who can also sprint. That put us in a really strong position when it comes to stage hunting. Not having Julian does nothing but weaken the team but that's the way it is. The replacement for Julian will be a different type of rider and it will be easier to look after one GC guy instead of two but not having him is a loss. I look forward to racing again with him soon."