Seated on the Etixx-QuickStep team bus steps at the start of stage 1 of the Vuelta al País Vasco, Ireland’s Dan Martin did not speak - but pointed a hand skywards, towards the steadily falling rain in the town of Extebarria, when asked about his perspective on the race route.
Much of the pre-race predictions and debates about possible race scenarios in the six-day Basque race have been heavily focussed on the question of the rain,currently forecast to settle in across the Basque Country for the entire week.
Third eight days ago in the Volta a Catalunya, where he also won a stage and held the lead, Martin told Cyclingnews, “I was a bit sick at the end of Catalunya, I had a little bit of a cold and that dragged on into the start of last week. It’s always hard to recover from Catalunya, it’s such a tough race.”
“But I’m looking forward to being here, I haven’t done this race in quite a while” - back in 2012, in fact, when he abandoned on stage 4. “But as I didn’t do Tirreno-Adriatico, this seemed to be a good moment to come back to this race.”
As a race, the Etixx-QuickStep rider defines the sharply hilly profile of Pais Vasco as tactical and said that It’s always up or down. "You never know when the break is going to go. I think people are keen and motivated, despite this weather so it could be interesting.
“The GC will start to be decided tomorrow [stage 2's tricky uphill finish] but it can be lost today [Monday]. It’s basically five one-day races, and then a time trial. That’s what makes it so hard and so stressful.”
His objective, he says, being to hone his form for the Ardennes rather than a definitive top result in Pais Vasco, means “there’s no pressure here. It’s more down to those Classics. I really don’t want to be emptying the tank here if it means I risk my chances there. I don’t want to be fatigued for them, but I’m not going to sit back and let the race go away from me. If it’s there to be taken, I’ll have a go.
“It’s a really great race, too, the fans here and the atmosphere make it very special. I just hope the weather forecast isn’t going to be what they’re saying.”
Martin may miss the Amstel Gold Race, he told Cyclingnews, to focus more strongly on the Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the latter won by the Irishman back in 2013.
“I might not do Amstel, we haven’t decided yet, but normally just Fleche and Liege are more suited for me. With the change of race program it’s a bit much to go to Amstel, particularly if I finish this race. I think a lot of the guys who want to do well in Amstel may not finish here.”
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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