Dan Martin sees the question coming a mile off and no, he has no announcement to make just yet. Since it was confirmed earlier this month that Martin would be leaving Cannondale-Garmin at the end of the season, his phone has been ringing off the hook with enquiries as to his plans for 2016.
Etixx-QuickStep has been heavily rumoured as the likely destination – “We’re close,” manager Patrick Lefevere admitted to Cyclingnews ten days ago – but the many moving parts in this year’s transfer market are progressing at glacial speeds and Martin has yet to put pen to paper.
The one certainty, however, is that, for the first time in his career, Martin will line out next year for a team other than the Slipstream Sports outfit where he began his professional career back in 2008. In that period, he has progressed steadily from youthful promise to team leader, landing Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour of Lombardy along the way, but at 29 years of age, the Irishman felt the time was ripe to sample pastures new.
“I’ve kind of seen in the last couple of years that perhaps my level of progression hasn’t continued in the same vein so maybe a move will lead not so much to change in direction of my career but a refresh,” Martin told Cyclingnews in Estepona on Tuesday morning ahead of stage 4 of the Vuelta a España. “I’m excited to have a new challenge.”
When news of Martin’s departure broke two weeks ago, one wondered if it might see him removed from Cannondale-Garmin’s Vuelta line-up, a fate that befell Thor Hushovd when he announced his decision to leave the team in the summer of 2011. In the wake of Tom Danielson’s recent positive test for testosterone, however, it may simply be the case that the team has more pressing concerns elsewhere right now.
In any case, after eight years of service, there will be something of a valedictory feel to this Vuelta for Martin, who admitted to a degree of nostalgia at the prospect of lining out for a final Grand Tour appearance in the company of riders such as Andrew Talansky.
“This is a team that’s been so important to making me the rider I am today, so I’m excited to have this opportunity to finish off this period of my career in style,” Martin said. “I came to this team a few years before Andrew but we’ve both grown together in the team and it’s the last time we’ll be riding in the same jersey for the immediate future.
“At the end of the day, when the flag goes down, the racing instinct is still going to come through, you forget about the sentimental aspect and you just go for it. But this team has been like a family to me, I’ve been here for so long. But the future is exciting.”
Martin’s immediate future, of course, is at this Vuelta, and like most riders who have come here with the Tour de France in their legs, he is unsure as to what he might achieve. Twelve months ago, having missed the Tour, Martin arrived at the Vuelta fresh and more or less in the form of his life, placing 7th in Madrid and going to win the Tour of Lombardy shortly afterwards. This time around, it’s too soon to gauge whether the general classification is a realistic target.
“I’ve got no idea where my form’s at really because I haven’t done a whole lot of training since San Sebastian. The freshness isn’t there like it is when you don’t do the Tour,” he said. “The last two days have been incredibly hard and the heat doesn’t help.
“We’ll take it day by day because I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to be in the final general classification or not. That second week is a bit of an unknown as far as how the legs and body will hold up after a long year. Mentally I’m hungrier than ever but we’ll have to see if my body can handle it.”
The early auguries have nonetheless been encouraging, and Martin lies 4th overall, 24 seconds off the red jersey of Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) after an impressive showing on the summit finish at Caminito del Rey on the opening road stage.
“It surprised me how the race was raced and that’s why I waited so long to attack because I thought the other teams would try to chase down that group as well, but everyone was pretty tired,” he said. In the end, I attacked and Chaves came with me and just dropped me, so he was definitely the strongest on Sunday. But the legs are pretty good we’ll hope for another shot at winning a stage.”
The punchy uphill finishes that punctuate the first week in Andalusia, on paper at least, seem tailored to Martin’s characteristics, though the sole leg he knows in any detail is the fearsome stage 11, which features some 5,200 metres of climbing around his home in Andorra.
“I know the Andorra stage really well because I live there now and I’ve done all those climbs a couple of times,” Martin said. “That’s going to be incredibly hard but other than that I don’t think anyone could have done much recon coming in to this Vuelta.”
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