After a period of integration at UAE Team Emirates, Dan Martin is finally starting to find his feet. A fine stage win in June at the Critérium du Dauphiné, and fourth overall there, were his best performances of the year to date, and the Irishman arrives at the Tour de France hoping to carry that form and confidence into a difficult first week, in which he and his team will be put through their paces.
"I'm going to approach the race as I do every year as though it's made up of 21 one-day races, especially the first nine stages with possible danger everywhere," Martin told Cyclingnews and ITV at the teams' presentation on Thursday evening.
The first two days of the Tour are set to feature crosswinds and fraught racing as the sprinters and GC teams vie for control. Martin is expected to lose time in the team time trial on stage 3, but stages 5 and 6 to Quimper and Mûr-de-Bretagne, respectively, both suit the Irishman with their punchy profiles, providing terrain on which he can showcase his climbing.
A stage win in the opening week is a real objective for Martin, who won a stage five years ago at the Tour after a two-up sprint against Astana's Jakob Fuglsang.
"It's the Tour de France – you can lose it on any day. There are very few opportunities to gain time, but if there are any, I'm going to try to take them,' said Martin. "As I said at the Dauphiné, the most important thing is that we race with a smile, and if we do that, then the results will follow.
"I'm committed to the GC, but I'm just going to enjoy the race. It's a rollercoaster, and I'm bound to lose some time at some point, but I'll gain some time at others. It would be nice to come away with a stage victory, but there's not a single rider on the start-line who isn't thinking that. It's a tough field this year, but it is every year.
"A stage win in the opening week of the Tour would be a massive morale boost. The time gains are going to be pretty negligible, but time losses could be substantial."
The second half of the race, with the Alps, Massif Central and the Pyrenees, is more to Martin's liking, and is the terrain where his GC ambitions will be decided. A top 10 at the Tour is perhaps the minimum the Irishman's looking for, but there are no guarantees at the Tour, especially with such a high quality field this year.
The mountains will come, but Martin cut a relaxed figure on Thursday, perhaps relieved that the Tour had come around and that he had found his feet after a slow start to the year. The transition from Quick-Step over the winter took time, especially with UAE still in relative infancy following their debut season in 2017.
"Look at the number of flags on our start list here. It's a mixture of languages and cultures. Every team takes a while to gel, and we had a really good June. There's a really good atmosphere around the camp right now," he said.
"I've just tried to stay as relaxed as possible. The legs were there, so it was just about maintenance, and I've come here as relaxed as possible."
Pressure off Froome
Coming into the Tour, the shadow of Chris Froome looms large. Not just because of his status as the defending champion, but because of his recent salbutamol case, of which he was recently cleared. Almost every rider at the race has been asked their opinion on the matter, and Martin, who could have ridden with Froome this year after Team Sky showed interest in signing him, is no different in that regard.
"Froome raced remarkably well all season with that pressure on his shoulders," Martin said. "It was incredible what he achieved. It's going to be interesting to see how the spotlight has been lifted off the whole team and then hopefully the attention will turn back to the racing and away from what happened over the winter.
"He's always going to be a difficult guy to beat. I think that we're all just hoping that his efforts at the Giro will cost him. But he wouldn't be here if he didn't think he could win."