Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) was disarmingly frank about his prospects on Green Mountain, the finale to stage 4 of the Tour of Oman, admitting that he might find himself limited by a nagging illness on Friday afternoon. The Irishman showcased his early season form by claiming a stage win at the recent Volta a la Comunitat Valencia, but has been nursing a chest complaint since arriving in the Gulf.
“I’ve got to be realistic as well – I feel like shit,” Martin told Cyclingnews at Al Sawadi Beach before the start of stage 3. “You can have all the ambition in the world but if your body doesn’t react, it’s not going to happen. Maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow feeling really good and I’ll give it a crack for sure. I’m here to push myself and I’m here to ride for the team.”
Given the circumstances, Martin perhaps surprised himself by finishing in the elite leading group that formed on the stiff climb of Al Jissah in the finale of the opening stage, but he proceeded to lose all hope of final overall victory when he was distanced as the pace picked up on the flat run-in to the final haul to the line the following day.
“When you’re feeling shit you’re really not ready to get involved in all the craziness but to be honest we just got caught by surprise by that right turn,” Martin said. “We didn’t expect it, because it wasn’t even crosswind, it was tailwind. It was just that it was super fast. There were two corners and it was lined out, then someone let a wheel go and it was gone.”
Martin can well afford to take the relative peaks and troughs of his Tour of Oman in his stride. While the centrepiece of his spring, as ever, will come in late April with the troika of Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, his victory in Valencia last week marked the first time in his career that he has won so early in the year.
The switch from Cannondale to Etixx-QuickStep during the off-season heralded tweaks to Martin’s racing programme – in 2014, for instance, he didn’t begin his season until Tirreno-Adriatico in March – and his training regimen.
“I’ve done more training camps with the team this year and I’ve probably done more hours this winter than I’ve ever done, and the structure of the training suits me well, I think,” he said. “I go away and do a heavy workload with the team for a week, then go home and do what I do at home. It broke up my routine a bit and that’s important, that’s why I changed teams, to have that change in environment. You’re always learning.”
Etixx-QuickStep have claimed ten victories from six different riders on three continents in the opening weeks of the season, a significant change from last year at Cannondale, when the team didn’t get off the mark until late March and finished the year with just 11 wins in total.
“Once you get the ball rolling it seems to continue,” Martin said. “After Stijn [Vandenbergh] and I won stages in Valencia last week, Bob [Jungels] came here incredibly motivated to win a stage. He saw his opportunity and took it. It’s that drive: when you see your teammates winning you want to be a part of that.”
A team comprising such a spread of potential winners runs the risk of carrying a surfeit of egos, yet over the years QuickStep have by and large managed to strike the right balance between healthy internal competition and ruinous internecine strife. Though just a few weeks into his time at the team, Martin cites the influence of manager Patrick Lefevere as the binding factor.
“I think Patrick’s a big part of it. It’s not only the riders they [the management] choose for the team but the way they manage it. It’s very balanced and there’s this understanding that if the team wins, it’s the team’s victory, for the mechanics, soigneurs and everybody,” he said. “We saw Marcel [Kittel] winning yesterday [at the Volta ao Algarve] and we celebrated at the dinner table because we feel part of that too.”