Dan Martin is still radiating confidence after his big win at Il Lombardia last year as he heads into his eighth season with Jonathan Vaughters' newly-merged WorldTour Cannondale-Garmin team in 2015. In an interview with Cyclingnews following the team's launch in New York City, he spoke about the importance of starting the new year on a high note, his love of the Ardennes Classics and his plans for the Tour de France.
Martin had some trying moments last season especially after a series of crashes early on left him struggling to secure results. He ended the year with a seventh-place overall at the Vuelta a España, a win at the Italian classic Il Lombardia and second overall with a stage win at the Tour of Beijing - accomplishments that gave him the mental strength that he needed heading into the off-season.
"I think it was really important to finish on a high last year because had I finished on a low it would have changed my morale and the atmosphere during the winter," Martin said.
He doesn't dwell on his series of unfortunate crashes last year; one at the end of Liége-Bastonge-Liége while he was on his way to a repeat win, and the other during the opening team time trial at the Giro d'Italia where he was sidelined with a broken collarbone. He believes that both his misfortunes and his successes have made him a better team leader.
"I'm not someone who reflects too much on the past. I don't look back on a season and say whether it was good or bad. I think every season is important for different reasons. Last year was very important in my progression as a leader.
"I've always been very fortunate in my career not to suffer from bad luck but last year, suddenly, bad luck hit me all in one go and I kind of went into a bit of a shell. But finishing on such a high at the end of year, it shows momentum. Hopefully, I'll be able to carry that momentum from the end of 2014 straight through to the 2015 season."
When asked if he thought 2015 was going to be his year of success, Martin joked, "I don't know, I'll try not to walk under any ladders."
A return to the Ardennes Classics
Martin starts his seasons at the upcoming Mallorca Challenge (January 29-February 1) followed by a second team training camp on the Spanish island. He will aim for strong overall performances at Tirreno-Adriatico (March 11-17) and Volta Ciclista a Catalunya (March 23-29) before tackling his main season objectives at the Ardennes Classics; Amstel Gold Race (April 19), La Flèche Wallonne (April 22) and Liége-Bastogne-Liége (April 26).
"The Ardennes Classics are an obvious objective of mine every year because I love those races and also, I'm quite good at them," Martin said. "It's my favourite week of the year. I get to race bikes over a terrain that suits me, and hang out in a hotel with a bunch of my mates for a week. It's just a really good time.
"We race hard and then have a couple of days of recovery where we ride to the coffee shops each day, and just chill out. It's a really fun week. It's hard to explain how good that atmosphere is, and that's partly why we race so well there."
Martin won Liége-Bastogne-Liége in 2013, but this year he most wants a win atop the Mur de Huy at Flèche Wallonne, a win that has escaped him in recent years.
"Flèche Wallonne is on my bucket list," Martin said. "I've been sixth, fourth and second there. I would love to win that race, especially with the Tour de France going through the Mur de Huy this year, that would be a huge confidence boost if I could do well at Flèche Wallonne."
Irishman shoots for 21 one-day races at the 2015 Tour de France
The second half of Martin's season will be focused on the Tour de France in July, where he will be one of Cannondale-Garmin's team leaders alongside Andrew Talanksy, and perhaps Ryder Hesjedal. Talansky will take on more of the traditional role as GC leader for the team, while Martin hopes on being more of a wildcard.
He plans to approach the French Grand Tour in the same way that he will approach the Ardennes Classics, by treating each stage as a stand-alone and a shot at victory.
"The way the calendar lays itself out, the Tour fits better for me this year," Martin said. "I'm fortunate to have Andrew, who really wants the pressure of being team leader, and I can race how I want to. It's different from other races, people ride a lot more conservatively than other races, and that's not my style. I'd like to go into the Tour aggressively.
"There is a possibility that I could be in the hunt for the GC at the end of it, whatever that means, I don't know, a top five or top 10. I'll be going into it as I've always done and shoot for 21 one-day races, try and get stages and be in the hunt for the GC at the end of it. I love racing and so I find it hard to hold myself back sometimes, and maybe that's not an attribute that suits a GC leader. We'll find out."
It should come as no surprise that Martin is eying a stage 3 win in Huy. The Tour will start with an individual time trial in Utrecht and continue through the Netherlands for the stage 2 finish in Zeeland. The race will pass into Belgium for the start of stage 3 in Antwerp and finish on the slopes of the Mur de Huy.
"The stage with the Mur de Huy is high on my list," Martin said. "It's an opportunity to really get a good result in the first week of the Tour… that would be incredible. It would hopefully set the tone for the whole team."
Martin has shown that he is a top-10 contender in the Grand Tours. In 2013, he won stage 9 at the Tour de France in Bagnères-de-Bigorre and was sitting in 10th place overall until three stages to go when he became sick and lost valuable time on L'Alpe d'Huez. "I was really confident with three mountain stages to go that I could finish seventh or eighth, around there, and then I got really sick. But from that point there, I knew that I could be successful at a Grand Tour."
He missed last year's Tour because he wasn't fully recovered from a broken collarbone sustained in the opening stage of the Giro d'Italia, however, despite crashing in stage 15 on the way to Lagos de Covadonga, he finished the Vuelta a España in seventh place overall.
"My build up to the Vuelta wasn't what I had hoped it would be and I think I can definitely improve in the mountains. I had a few glimmers of really being able to climb with the best guys. That consistency over the three weeks was almost there, apart from the crash. It gives me hope for the future."
Leading the younger generation at Cannondale-Garmin
Martin recently met with his teammates at a training camp in the British Virgin Islands. The riders spent much of their time learning how to sail, which was a communication exercise that Vaughters believed would help them learn how to function cohesively this year.
"All we've done so far is hang out in boats and party together," Martin said. "That's what was so great about the BVI camp, we hung out and made friends with each other. It was literally a pure team-bonding camp."
Cannondale-Garmin has the youngest roster on the WorldTour with 10 riders who are 23 years old or younger. Many of them have shown big potential in the mountains, particularly Davide Formolo, who was second to Vincenzo Nibali at the Italian road championships and seventh overall at the Tour de Suisse last year. In addition, Davide Villella won the mountains classification at Pais Vasco last year, Matej Mohoric is a former junior and under-23 World Champion in the road race, and Joe Dombrowski is a former Baby Giro winner.
As the team's captain, Martin has taken them all under his wing and is looking forward to guiding them through the early stages of their careers at the WorldTour level. "I'm only 28 but I feel old sitting around the table with all these 21-year-old's everywhere," Martin joked.
"My role as team captain is to help those guys develop, and to see them develop is very exciting. I'm happy to offer my experience and it’s really cool for me to see their progression. We have an incredibly talented squad assembled. It’s a squad that will surprise people.
"Formolo is obviously the outstanding talent from last year but we don't know who of the other young guys is gonna really step up this year and improve. At that age, they will develop at different levels and different speeds, so you never know who will be the next to have an outstanding performance. That's what makes it so exciting to work with the younger riders."
Martin expresses gratitude for eight years of support from Vaughters
Martin started his professional cycling career with Slipstream Sports partway through 2007 as a trainee for Vaughters' budding Professional Continental team, Slipstream-Chipotle. He has enjoyed the stability of spending eight season with the American team through their growth onto the WorldTour, which as allowed him to develop into a world-class rider.
"This is my eighth year with the team and it's been a great time," said Martin, who expressed his gratitude to Vaughters for supporting his career. "This team has been incredibly good to me. It's been my family for seven years. I've made incredible friends here.
"Jonathan has had a massive part in my development as a rider, as far as, almost holding me back at a young age and allowing me to have this steady progression over the years. Most years I've seen a steady improvement to where I am now. It's been a great experience to share that with this team… my family."
Martin's current contract with Cannondale-Garmin expires at the end of 2015. He would like to stay on board with the team next year but acknowledged that future contracts are hard to predict in professional cycling.
"Who knows where the future is going to take us," Martin said. "You never know what's going to happen in the future or where it is going to take you."