The race spends three days in Ireland before returning to Italy and with a top ten place in the overall, and a stage in his sights, Martin is well aware that the Giro holds a significant importance for him, his team, and his career as a grand tour rider.
Martin, 27, has come a long way since his amateur days with Vélo Club La Pomme, a Marseille-based amateur team that has harnessed some of the best young talent in the sport. It was Martin’s stage win and second overall in the Valle d'Aosta, a race that takes place across Italy and France, in 2006, that first caught the eye on Garmin’s Jonathan Vaughters, who was then trying to piece together a continental team.
Martin, according to Vaughters, turned down the invitation of turning professional for 2007, instead choosing the focus on his development in the amateur ranks before making the step up.
“He was just this skinny kid but he seemed to have this sharp eye for tactics and being in the right place at the right time. Of course he was already a really good climber too,” Vaughters tells Cyclingnews.
Vaughters spent the next twelve months monitoring Martins’ progress with the help of his coach Adrie van Diemen, and as the wins trickled in, Vaughters became ever more convinced that Martin was a star in the making. A rider with a mental fortitude and zero tolerance stance towards doping, which was matched by his physical capabilities on the bike. For a team on the look-out for fresh faced talent with no question marks over their pasts and a hunger to succeed and do it clean, Martin was the perfect blend.
Martin eventually turned pro with Garmin in the fall of 2007, making his debut a few months later. He handed Christophe Moreau a kicking in the Route du Sud, winning the overall by a clear margin and announcing himself to the world circuit at the same time.
“We eventually got him to come with us and right off the bat he was winning,” Vaughters added.
Since then Martin has grown in stature, and to the point where he has become Garmin’s focal point and leader in both one-day and stage races.
It’s not been an easy road. Along with flashes of brilliance – the 2010 Tour de Pologne, 8th in his first Lombardia, stage wins in the Tour and the Vuelta and of course his Liege win in 2013 - there have been hard knocks and setbacks.
Missing out on selection for the Tour in 2009 due to injury, an allergy problem that dogged him until 2012, and watching as his GC aspirations crumbled due to illness in the Tour last year, have been hard lessons but from each set back Martin has bounced back. His first Giro in 2010, in which he talks about in this exclusive video, ended with a 57th place in the GC. However, from there, Martin went on to win in Poland and finish second in the Giro dell'Emilia.
“The thing with Dan is that he’s a unique rider. He’s either one of the best in the world but when he’s just a little off, he’s way off. There’s no mediocre with Dan Martin. He’s either about to win, in the hunt to win or he’s just low down in the race,” his team boss adds.
Vaughters’ description may suggest as to why Martin hasn’t quite fulfilled his dreams of a top GC place in a grand tour yet. His best result so far was a creditable 13th in the Vuelta in 2011 but he has shown the potential to race well over a three-week period. As he describes in the video, the Giro is about 21 one-day races and he will take each one as it comes.
“Dan’s best three week performance was that Vuelta rider and minus some bad luck he could have made the top ten but since then, if you look at the 2012 or 2013 Tour he’s either been good in the first half or good in the second half. Even if he’s one of the most powerful riders in the race, he’s got sick easier than some guys or picked up a little niggle but with each year that goes by he gets a little bit closer and becomes more robust. It’s only a matter of time before he hits a three week tour, doesn’t get sick and then he’ll be in the hunt for the podium,” Vaughters says.
“This year he has as good a shot as anyone. Quintana is the favourite but then you have a group of guys but Dan can be competitive. If he stays healthy for three weeks he’ll be up there for the win.”
“I hope the sport has moved on and I’m really proud of the clean image that I have now,” he told Cyclingnews.
“I feel proud that people believe in me and that they think that I’m doing this in the right way. I’m clean. Personally I always thought that winning clean, in a race like Liège was possible. It’s never been a question in my mind, but I hope that people do see that the sport has changed because if it hadn’t my win wouldn’t have been possible.”
Although Vaughters disagrees to some extent, Martin may have become the poster-boy for Garmin’s image. The team burst onto the scene with a message and mantra of clean cycling - no matter what - in 2008. That sentiment has always been there, simmering away, although at times they’ve tried to embrace it with a winning culture. That in itself has been a difficult task, for myriad of reasons, and not just because the sport has lumbered through the USADA investigation but Martin in Vaughters’ eyes, signifies what the team is about.
“Dan has a very clear point of view with regards to doping and he’s always been like that. He speaks his mind clearly on the topic whenever he’s asked. I think he’s a very intelligent person who speaks his mind and that’s equally as important as riding fast,” he says.
Martin doesn’t seem to let things faze him. In this exclusive video for Cyclingnews, shot during the Ardennes, he talks about the Giro: its relevance to his season, his objectives and his love for racing in such a prestigious event.
“A top ten in a grand tour is one thing that’s missing from my palmarès,” he says to the camera. This year’s Giro may or may not provide Martin with the result he’s looking for. A grand tour can throw up far too many twists and turns for any prediction to warrant certainty, but if he stays upright, and healthy, don’t be surprised to see Martin in the thick of the action.