Garmin-Sharp’s Jonathan Vaughters has placed Dan Martin’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège victory in the team’s top three victories of all time and praised the Irishman’s anti-doping stance. Martin's victory has opened the debate over whether the 26-year-old can lead Garmin in a Grand Tour but for Vaughters what's unequivocal and undeniable is Martin's ethical code on anti-doping.
Martin turned professional with Garmin in 2008, having risen through the ranks at the bastion of French development squads, VC La Pomme. Marked as a promising climber, Martin rose through the ranks and has slowly developed into a complete all-rounder capable of winning stage races and one-day events alike.
“He started out with us. I remember being out fishing in 2006 and I got his phone number and I was out on this boat, and I’d been chasing him around. I actually tried to convince him to turn pro in 2007 but he said no and wanted to stay amateur for another year,” Vaughters told Cyclingnews.
“He had some pretty incredible results as a U23 rider. The one that stood out and showed he had a huge engine was in Giro della Valle d'Aosta, when he tore everyone up in the time trial. That was in 2006 and he was crushing a bunch of U23 amateur Italian riders.
“He won Route du Sud in his first year as a pro in 2008 and the competition was pretty good. Christophe Moreau was there and Dan just dropped all those guys. He’s always been massively talented.”
That talent was often checked by Martin’s vulnerability in terms of health. Persistent allergy problems blighted his first few seasons as a professional and often meant that he couldn’t perform to his ability in the spring.
Eye-catching results still landed though. Second overall in the Volta a Catalunya, 5th in Plouay and 8th in Lombardia in 2009. There was a fine GC win at the Tour de Pologne in 2010 before a stage win at the Vuelta a España and 2nd place at Lombardia the following season. Last season saw a handful of consistent results in the Classics but this season Martin has combined his natural talent with a new-found resolve and consistency.
“When Dan wants to win, he’s incredibly focused and tenacious but he needs to build to it. Take Purito, he goes into every race and he’s always good. Dan tends to be great or down a level. He knows how to win, though, and he’s getting quite more consistent as he gets older. He’s always been a winner though, it’s just that each year he wins something on a slightly higher level than the year before,” Vaughters told Cyclingnews.
Grand Tour ambitions
It opens to question as to whether Martin should be given greater responsibility in the Grand Tours. With Tom Danielson and Christian Vande Velde both edging towards the end of their careers post suspension and Ryder Hesjedal focusing on the Giro d'Italia, a Tour de France captain is a needed come July. Martin has never aimed at a GC result in a three-week race and Vaughters is cautiously open to the idea at present.
“We as a team don’t know how if he is as a Grand Tour rider. He can certainly win stages in a Grand Tour and he can win the polka dot jersey, but it’s an open question as to whether he’s a GC rider. That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be looking at that in the next year or two, but there’s no clear example of when he’s been able to put three weeks together at that level. That’s not to say that it can’t happen. It needs to be explored.
“He’s a born winner. He’s either going to win the Tour de France or after three or four times trying he’ll concentrate on races like Liège, like Lombardia.”
Anti-doping: a stalled future?
One of the most pleasing aspects for Vaughters after Martin had crossed the line in Liège was his reaffirmation of his strong anti-doping stance. Martin has even taken Vaughters to task before on how the team should position itself and the Irishman re-signed for Garmin partly due to their code on clean cycling. Liège-Bastogne-Liège itself is a race synonymous with cycling’s doping ghost. A look at previous winners is almost a who's who of CAS-related clientele. Vaughters believes that cycling is cleaner than before and that his riders, like Martin, are able to race and win clean, taking advantage of a slower peloton.
“I would say that the anti-doping aspect of the sport in general and our team is the most important thing for Dan and it’s been like that since day one. He always expresses very strong and unedited opinions regarding anti-doping. He always wants to make sure that everyone understands his perspective on it. There’s no way around it and he’s always been like that. He was just very clear in his mindset and moral compass,” Vaughters told Cyclingnews.
While Martin’s stance on doping may be clear cut and unequivocal, the sport’s current malaise means that almost every performance is questioned. In the fallout of the USADA investigation, a purge ensued with riders and directors – past and present – put on the stand. Some were fired, some walked away scot-free. Confessions were rare, a hybrid omertà was born and the positive action needed to improve the sport stalled.
Individuals like Neil Stephens – one example of many – were put in a position where telling the truth could cost you your job.
“Right now things are imperfect but moving in a positive direction. I'll be honest, when I see the instance of White not having a job and Neil Stephens giving the answers he did, I find that discouraging. Matt White was honest and straightforward and was sacked. I hope that will be remedied and that with a little bit of time and some leadership from the governance of the sport, going forward we’ll have clarity and consistency,” Vaughters said optimistically.
Unfortunately, in order for Vaughters' framework to work, the sport needs leadership and governance. Don’t look to the UCI for that. Pat McQuaid is scrambling for votes to save his presidency and every indication from WADA suggests that they don’t have the teeth for it.
“Truth and reconciliation have to be part of that [framework]. I know there’s not been a lot of movement on that but it takes time and it’s difficult. You shouldn’t detract from the point that one man is punished and one isn’t. Yes, there are inconsistencies but that’s because this has been such a shock to the sport. What’s been positive is that riders are looking at the situation now and the deterrent is unbelievable because some of the most iconic people in the sport got removed a decade after the fact.”
To Vaughters’ credit he has been pragmatic about the current situation. A botched zero tolerance policy as some squads have enforced fools no one and there is merit in offering redemption to those who are willing to admit to their mistakes and rescue the sport through varying degrees of dedication. Garmin has become a sanctuary for characters like that.
“Dan didn’t have to face the same decisions as those other guys. Never. And thank God for that. Also, thank them for that. I’ve watched many guys with incredibly strong resolve against doping slowly succumb to the system. We are lucky we never have to see Dan tested that way.”