After eight years in the Slipstream sports set-up, Dan Martin is about to embark on a new adventure with the Etixx-QuickStep team. The last two seasons have been tough for Martin with crashes at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Vuelta a España, but he’s ready to bounce back in his new team.
Cyclingnews sat down with the 29-year-old at the Etixx-QuickStep training camp in Calpe, Spain to discuss fitting in with a new team, getting over his crashes, his season’s ambitions and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at the Olympic medal.
Cyclingnews: This is your second training camp with Etixx-QuickStep. How has it been, settling into the team?
Dan Martin: It’s been seamless. I’ve fitted in right away. They’ve made me feel very welcome. It’s all cliché but when they knew I was coming here the other riders in the team said that it is very much a family atmosphere here. From the outside it might seem very professional and very drilled, but it’s a family.
CN: How different is it at Etixx-QuickStep compared to Garmin?
DM: The main difference has been adapting to the equipment. The working of the team is always going to be quite similar whatever cycling team you go to. The differences will become more apparent when we get into the races. When you’re in a stressful environment, the true colours of the team come through. Maybe ask me the question in six months’ time and I might be able to answer it better.
CN: After spending so long in one team, has it been strange getting used to everything being different?
DM: It was a bit strange. The weirdest part was towards the end of last year when I knew that I wasn’t going to be part of the set-up in 2016 and guys at the dinner table where talking about where the October training camp was going to be and what was happening next year and I wasn’t going to be a part of that. That was definitely the strangest thing but coming to this team, I’ve tried to keep it business as usual and concentrate on the riding.
CN: Was there a reason behind you deciding to make that change?
DM: It’s simple: eight years is a long time. After the bad luck I’ve had over the past couple of years, I needed to turn the page and be refreshed. People bandy around words like “motivation”: I was never not motivated. And “pressure”: nobody puts more pressure on me than me, so that was never a factor. I think I just craved to experience a new environment and it’s only natural after eight years of looking over the fence into other organisations to see if there is anything better for me out there.
Obviously I’ve had a lot of success with Slipstream Sports and I’ve got a lot of friends there and fond memories. It was just time to really look for a better environment to improve myself because maybe I got a little bit stale. I’d become a bit safe and secure in my surroundings and I needed that environment to test myself and to have a different way of approaching training. Change is always good and refreshing and I feel reinvented. It’s a super motivating place to be and everyone is so hyped up to race and it’s a really positive place. This team is used to winning, it’s almost like a habit. I found that in 2013, once I’d won in Catalunya, everything seemed to follow more easily and hopefully the team’s winning can rub off on me a bit.
CN: What made you plump for Etixx-QuickStep over any other team?
DM: Patrick [Lefevere] had a lot to do with it. I’d never had personal contact with Patrick before but I knew that he had interest in me for a number of years. In the past, when my contract was up, he was there and I knew that he was interested in me as a rider. I think that it is really exciting to work with people when they want to work with you and they believe in you. He showed a lot of belief in me straight away and my potential. I’m 29 now and to have someone who believes that there is more potential was really exciting.
The way they race suits my style. I do have a bit of an open card to play. They don’t have a fixed tactic, they are open to aggressive tactics and that’s my style of racing. They are a team that would risk everything on winning and maybe get last rather than get second. I love that. It just seemed a good fit from the start.
CN: You mentioned earlier the bad luck that you’ve had and in the past two years you have suffered some bad crashes at crucial points in your season. Has that impacted on you mentally?
DM: Maybe I’m in denial but I haven’t had that many crashes but when I do they seem to always be on television. When I crashed, I crashed badly. I think I only crashed four or five times in the past years, although I try to forget. A lot of guys have a lot of innocuous crashes and they don’t mean anything, but I seem to hit the deck hard when I’ve crashed in the last couple of years.
CN: Does it have an impact on you going into 2016, do you feel like you’ve got something to prove, or is that all in the past for you?
DM: I’m not going to think about the crashes because once you start doing that then you may as well hang up the wheels. The directors are definitely thinking about it because they’ve said don’t worry about crashing because we are going to put five guys around you to protect you all the time. I’ve got a little bit of a reputation now and it hurts a bit. My crashes have been so visible. Every crash I had last year was never my fault, I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The crashes I was in, I was the second or third person to go down, and you don’t have time to react to it.
CN: How are you feeling ahead of the 2016 season?
DM: I’m ambitious. I want to get back to winning races. I came so close so many times last year it was so frustrating. I think I had about eight top-four finishes and didn’t actually win a race and each time they were high-profile races. So many guys in this team win races, and hopefully that will rub off on me.
I start off in Valencia and then I do Oman, and they’re new races for me. Oman is a race that I’ve always wanted to do and it suits me. I don’t really have any ambitions for it because I don’t know how the form will be but I’m just going to go to races and race as hard as I can. I want to get back to how I was as a junior and not have to worry about WorldTour points and just race hard and try to be as fit as I can. I really want to repay the confidence that Patrick has shown in me.
CN: After Oman, what does your programme look like and where are your big targets?
DM: I’m going to do much of the same that I have in the past few years. It seems to work for me with the Ardennes in mind. Catalunya is a race that I’ve been really successful in every year and it’s a home race, I know the roads well. It’s nice not to have to travel to a race, I can just drive to the start. For the Ardennes we have a really strong team with Julian [Alaphilippe] and Bob Jungels, and I’m really excited. Going back to Liège-Bastogne-Liège in one of Belgium’s biggest sports teams, I think that the attention is going to be a little bit different, but it’s exciting.
CN: In the past at the Ardennes it has been all on you, will it be different going with such a strong team?
DM: I’m still expecting it to be all on me. Obviously I want to be good in those races and the team expects me to be good in those races so it’s not going to be different that much but I think it will make it more fun having a few cards to play. You’re not really chasing the race, you can afford to make the race and decide tactics and play your cards. I’ve spoken to Bob in the peloton, and Julian too, and it should work really well. We complement each other well, we’re by no means the same rider. Hopefully we can all get there in good form and do some damage.
CN: And the middle part of the season with the Tour de France and the Olympics, what are your thoughts on that
DM: I don’t think that I will have another chance in my career to get an Olympic medal or even win it. It’s got to be an aim. It’s a great course for me and it’s a long race. It looks like Tokyo will be flattish so it is a chance of a lifetime. Why not go there and think that it is possible? The Tour is a goal too but I never like to think about that until after the Ardennes. The Olympics are different because you need to start planning that now.
At the Tour, I felt better last year than I did in 2013. I felt really strong and then I got sick again. It’s something that we need to figure out because that’s three Tours de France in a row that I’ve got sick. Obviously me, July and France don’t mix and that’s something we have to figure out.
CN: What would be the goal at the Tour de France, considering the Olympics afterwards?
DM: I don’t know. Like I said, I don’t like to think about it too much. Obviously, there’s the hilltop finish on stage 2 and then another mountain finish on stage 5, so if we can get off to a really good start there then there is an opportunity and we can see how it goes. We’ll no doubt have Marcel going to the Tour so I’ll have to cling onto the back of that lead-out train and try to stay out of trouble. If I get to the mountains in one piece then who knows?