Despite losing close to ten minutes on the first stage of the Tour Méditerranéen, Dan Martin starts the 2010 season with a new found confidence and form, both of which he'll aim to take into this year's racing. The Irishman ended the 2009 season in good shape, completing his first Grand Tour at the Vuelta and claiming a top ten placing in Lombardia.
However, despite the progression he's made on the bike, Martin is reluctant to set himself many goals, aware that his instinctive nature and relaxed approach are the reasons for any success he's had to date.
"I'm not going to set goals this year. If you look at one of my best races last year, Catalyuna, it was a surprise for me. I had good form but I didn't expect to be at the front. That's how I'm going to approach this season. Just turn up at the races and see how it goes. If I don't have good legs I'll work for someone else," Martin told Cyclingnews.
In Catalyuna, Martin was able to match riders like Alejandro Valverde, often putting the Spaniard into difficulty in the mountains. But it wasn't all success for Martin in 2009 with injury and illness surfacing at the most frustrating times.
Last year, Martin was plagued by sickness in the Spring and was down to ride his first Tour de France before a niggling injury forced him out at the last minute. Despite the setbacks, Martin recovered and regrouped and rode the Vuelta, which he believes was a good learning experience for him.
"The Vuelta changed me. I felt so strong, somehow I stayed skinny too and I'm starting from a much stronger position this season than I was last year. I did 8,000 kilometres in eight weeks before the end of the season and that was totally new for me. I did a full Pro Tour calendar but at the Vuelta I brought myself to a new level."
Martin also revealed that support from two of his older and more established teammates helped him recover from missing out on the Tour de France.
"Christian Vande Velde and David Millar are like my big brothers and they look after me. When I had to pull out of the Tour they took me aside and said don't worry go and do the Vuelta and then you don't have to train during the winter. That's the thing with cycling: it's a special sport, if you miss one race there's always another one around the corner especially with the Pro Tour now, everything is a big race."
All going well, Martin will line up for this year's Tour de France start in The Netherlands in top form. With no team time trial and a hard week in the Pyrenees, the route looks favourable to both him and his team leader Vande Velde, and despite the fact that Martin's performances will be eagerly watched he's willing to devote all his energies to working for Vande Velde.
"I think it's going to a really cool route this year and one that suits Christian down to the ground with all the mountains in the final week. I love the Pyrenees as well. Hopefully I'll be there to help him in that final week. To have someone that I respect so much and to see him on the podium, having helped him that would feel like me winning the Tour. He's done so much for me that I'd love to pay him back," Martin said.
As for his own future in the sport, Martin again defaults to that relaxed demeanour, unwilling to put pressure on himself despite his team manager Jonathan Vaughters heralding him as a true star to come. "I don't think we really know what I can do on the bike. It's obvious to say that I have potential because of the way I can climb, but the mental stress of being the Tour - well, I don't know how I'm going to cope with that. Maybe I'll be a one-day rider. I'd be okay with that. I'm just going to approach the season like the rest of my career. As long as I'm having fun and enjoying it they will be happy days."