Dan Martin looks forward to rest, then Ardennes after strong start to season

Come Monday, after he has finished the Volta a Catalunya, Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) has his next objective in his sights already: "Put my feet up and sit on the sofa for a couple of weeks."

The reason for this short spell of rest and recuperation is two-fold: first, Martin hit the ground running this season and up to the Volta a Catalunya, the Irishman has been racing consistently hard. He has earned top 10 placings in nearly half of his 24 race days so far this year. And that's without counting Martin's third place overall in Paris-Nice, sixth on GC in the Volta ao Algarve and fifth in the Vuelta a Valencia.

The second reason is that Martin's next big objective, a strong ride in the Ardennes Classics, is fast looming on the horizon. So his short-term aim, as he tells Cyclingnews during the Volta a Catalunya, where he's currently sitting sixth overall, is to be as fresh for that as possible

"It was a hard few weeks with Paris-Nice and I'm feeling it a bit, I've raced a lot this year. But that was always the plan for the Classics, to do the 'double' [Paris-Nice and Catalunya] because I did Tirreno then Catalunya when I won Liège-Bastogne-Liège [in 2013]."

"The plan is to freshen up, put my feet up and sit on the sofa ... We'll let these last couple of weeks soak in and then it'll be good."

Of the three Ardennes Classics, he will race Amstel, won three times by team-mate Philippe Gilbert, "to get my legs going again and obviously we've got a super strong team for it. Amstel doesn't really suit me as a race, but I can do a good job for the boys there, then see what I can do in Fleche and Liège, where I've done well."

Martin's track record in the Volta a Catalunya, too, has been a consistently good one, with a win in 2013, two second places overall, a third [in 2016] and a fourth place already in his palmares. This year, however, he felt the extreme length of the team time trial – 42 kilometres – skewed the race outcome somewhat by creating dauntingly big gaps in the results sheet. Martin's Quick Step Floors finished 10th, over two minutes down on winners BMC Racing, with the 25th and last team, Soul Brasil, more than five minutes adrift.

"That was partly why we hit Paris-Nice so hard, because we knew that the 42km team time trial was going to change the race completely. It's too much for sure. We don't even see 42km team time trials in Grand Tours anymore, never mind one-week races." The last time the Volta had a team time trial this long was in 1963, while the last Grand Tour TTT that was longer was in the 2005 Tour, a whopping 67.5km.

Warming to his point, Martin explained, "I'm lucky enough to have a relatively strong team, but it means that for young riders in weaker teams like Caja Rural—you're not going to see a guy like Hugh Carthy [ninth overall and youth classification winner in the 2016 Volta when with the Spanish squad] coming through and doing so well with a team time trial this long."

Martin defended the TTT route itself, saying, "It was a really good course, really complete and technically really demanding, but unfortunately that made the time gaps even larger." He also praised the organisation for their second innovation on the route this year, the re-introduction, after more than two decades, of a summit finish at Lo Port on stage 5. He was less impressed, however, with "that first stage in Calella, I'm getting really bored with that one. I must have done it five times in a row."

Either way, Martin argues, he has had a good series of spring races and "we'll see how it finishes up this week. Obviously I'm not feeling that happy because the podium [of the Volta] is a long way away, but I seem to fall into this consistency now. The body's not responding as it was last week [in Paris-Nice], but mentally I'm feeling so strong that I can still believe in myself being in the front and that's the important thing. That's what got me through this week for sure."

As for the Ardennes, Martin is aware that there will be several key options for Quick Step Floors on the table. While Gilbert has the best track record of any rider in recent times in the Amstel Gold Race, Martin and Gilbert are both former winners of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and Julian Alaphilippe, a Liège and Fleche Wallonne podium finisher, is yet another card to play.

"Any one of us would be a team leader in other squads in our own right, so to have so many cards to play in the final, that's really important," Martin said. "It's good to have a strong team around us, too because the Ardennes is very tricky as regarding losing guys to crashes and stuff and you can always have a bad day.

"So obviously we've got cards, we can mix the tactics up a bit. It all adds to that element of belief, going into the race with so much more confidence.

"Hopefully we'll be able to beat Alejandro [Valverde] for once." 

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.