Cyclingnews: Coming out of the Dauphiné, how was your form?
Dan Martin: It was a hard week of racing. I remember last year when I did it and it took me a few days to recover so I've made sure that I've taken it easy for a few days. I had a really good block of training coming into the race and it was basically a race every day this year at the Dauphiné with the GC going off almost every day and then the final three hard days in the mountains. That helped my fitness, of course, but in the days after I just needed to make sure that it had been soaked in properly before building up again for the Tour.
CN: From just a results point of view though you must be really pleased with how you did?
DM: I was more than happy. Going into the race we had this tentative objective of aiming for a top ten with myself and a stage win for the team. We came away with two of us in the top six, me on the podium and two second places on stages. It was a really successful week for the team and obviously the form was a lot better than I expected. It was a strange race, though, in a sense, but everyone was in the same boat, because with the third week of the Tour being so difficult we were all a bit lacking our top end. But on a personal note I was feeling better than I've ever felt on the climbs.
CN: It appeared like you were more composed than ever before in a stage race. Would that be a fair reflection?
DM: I also felt a lot calmer in the heat of the moment and I made sure that I wasn't panicking. I stayed calm and knew that I could come back to the front group if I was dropped. Coming to a new team, it's given me a new perspective and when it comes to racing I feel a lot more relaxed. From the very first stage there was zero pressure and the team just wanted us to go out there, race our bikes and have fun. Also, I've been training in Andorra now for a year and I think we're starting to see that change in my ability almost. I've almost changed my physique and we started to see that at the Vuelta last year when I was climbing at the front and high up in GC before I crashed out. It's simply a case of climbing more. Having lived in Girona for so many years I realised that I actually lacked climbing. The short and punchy climbs that I have been good on in the past, that's what I was training on but once I moved to the mountains and concentrated on longer climbs I started to revert back to my amateur days when I was training more on long climbs. I'm a kilo lighter than last year, two lighter than how I was at the Tour last year and that's from spending hours and hours going up mountains.
CN: So where does your GC performance rank in terms of your GC results of the past?
DM: It's hard to analyse it like that. The circumstances are always different around every result but it was one of the first races when I felt like I was racing at the head of affairs, making moves, attacking and with having that composure I was able to make calculated assessments about what was going on. I wasn't just hanging on. Also I was getting better and better every day and by the last couple of days I was feeling confident.
CN: Does it feel like you have less pressure on your shoulders now? At Garmin, for the last couple of years you were effectively ‘the leader' whereas at Etixx-QuickStep there's more options for team and therefore the pressure somewhat dissipates.
DM: It's not less pressure, it's just different. With Etixx, there's pressure because of all the races they've won in the past and you want to keep that roll going. And maybe I'm one of the leaders here but I'm really the only GC leader. Obviously Bob [Jungels] did an incredible ride at the Giro but I was still going into the Dauphiné with the team saying, ‘right, you're the team leader this week.' It's the same pressure in that respect but it's a different approach to racing. In reality I wasn't the team leader all the time at Cannondale but we just didn't make that obvious all the time. It wasn't the pressure that affected my results there, it was more the approach to racing. At the Dauphiné, we approached the race in the same way I always liked to approach stage races – taking it by day by day and trying to win each day. Then the GC picture starts to come together.
CN: Did you want to leave Garmin?
DM: I think it was time. They gave me the option to stay, of course, but I felt a bit stale. I needed the change and the rejuvenation that changing teams brings, but I was so happy there. Whenever I'm at races I still go to the team bus and talk to the staff and the guys and there's a lot of people I'm very fond of. It was a hard decision to leave but in the end I really wanted a new challenge and a new environment. I'd been on the same team and never experienced that difference.
CN: So the Tour, you've really put yourself in the window as being a top-five contender….
DM: Potentially, of course. I'm climbing with the best at the moment but the Tour is the Tour. I'm confident that if I can avoid getting sick and if I can avoid crashing then I can get the top ten. How far into that top ten I can go, that remains to be seen but I've a realistic chance. The team doesn't want us to go into the race saying 'I can do top five' but let's see what happens. I've got the backing now and we can compete in the high mountains. It's really exciting to be in this position.
CN: If you don't mind me asking, where were you when you signed your Etixx contact?
DM: Where? It was the day after I crashed out the Vuelta. Luckily I separated my left shoulder and not my right so I was still able to sign the contract.
CN: You mentioned getting sick. Is that your Achilles heel? Is that what holds you back?
DM: I'm conscious of the fact that in the last three Tours I've done I've got sick in all of them. I think we've found the solution to that but I want to do everything I can to not get sick. It has been my weakness in the past. In 2013 I was ninth with three or so days to go, got sick and lost everything and that's something that wound me up. If I had got that top ten then perhaps people would see me as more of a threat this time. I got through the Vuelta a few times without getting sick, so it's not the Grand Tour thing that makes me sick. Maybe it's France. I'm joking, of course, but I've stayed healthy all season and I've not had any health issues. Hopefully I can continue that.
CN: You said you figured out how to stop getting sick, what is that?
DM: It's the same virus that I get every time. It stays dormant and then it pops out and says hello every now and then. Hopefully we've found something that will kill it forever.
CN: You're not 21, you're not 35, you're in the peak of your career but what does this Tour represent? Do you look at the Tour now and think 'I‘I'll target GC but if it doesn't work out, I'll turn my attention to something else'?
DM: Not at all. All I know is that I've not been this excited for a race to start. I want the race to start tomorrow. I'm just really mentally well prepared. I know what to expect and I know that I'm climbing better than ever. I just want to get going. This isn't a make or break year. I'm stilling doing the Ardennes flat out, I'm still doing bits of my training that are focusing on things like stage 2 with the uphill sprint, so there's still a focus on winning stages. I've not spent as much time on my TT bike as some other GC guys but this is a part of cycling that I've yet to focus on. We'll just see what we can do at the Tour but I know from the Vuelta in 2014 that I can do Grand Tours and I wasn't that far away. I'm also going into the race with an entirely new set-up. We've got Marcel [Kittel] for the sprints and that's going to be interesting.
CN: No one is going to be expecting you to lead Kittel out but will you have someone in the team looking after you in the first week and keeping you out of trouble?
DM: We've not really talked about that yet but hopefully I can just bolt myself onto the back of the leadout train and be Marcel's sweeper. Seriously though it's a super atmosphere in the team and I'll be looked after in the best way possible. I don't know if I'll have someone looking after me, or who that will be, but I've never really had that. I know that the objective for stage 1, for example is to win stage 1. You said I won't be leading out Marcel but if the team ask me to I will. I'll be doing my part to help us get victories.
CN: The parcours suits you for the Tour. There's no team time trial, there's not that much flat time trialling and you were right up there with Froome and Contador at the Dauphiné. That must give you a lot of motivation.
DM: I've got the opportunity to cause a surprise again and that's what I've always seemed to excel in. I've spent so much time on the bike, just riding up and down mountains now, and it's such a nice feeling to see that it's paying off. I started my career as a pure climber and it's gone full circle now because I've changed my attributes. I was up there in the Dauphiné and I was being aggressive. And I've still got this part of me that thinks ‘I've got nothing to lose. So what if I get dropped because no one is expecting big things for me'. Obviously there's more pressure at the Tour but fans like that attacking style and If you don't try then you're not going to win.
CN: How do you drop Froome? How do you beat Team Sky?
DM: I haven't yet so I don't know… If Chris is in top form them he's the favourite. The way to beat him though, like anyone, is the capitalize on their bad day. Everyone has a bad day at a Grand Tour but it's about who has the worst bad day and if your bad day falls on an important stage… Sometimes you have a bad day on a flat stage and no one notices. Other times you have it on a mountain stage and you lose you entire race. That's what makes Grand Tours special. Sky are going to go with the Tour with a stronger team than they've ever had. This ‘plan G' with Thomas, that's a bit like the junior Tour of Wales all over again.
CN: Who came out on top then?
DM: I did, and on his home turf, but he wasn't a climber back then.