Following an impressive second place overall in the Volta a Catalunya, Irish road race champion Daniel Martin is almost certain to be part of the Garmin-Slipstream team for the Tour de France. Although he is just 22 years of age and is yet to ride a Grand Tour, performances this season such as third overall in the Tour of the Mediterranean and fifth on a stage of the Tour de Romandie, plus last week's performances in Catalunya have reinforced the team's belief that he deserves his place on the squad.
General manager Jonathan Vaughters confirmed that Martin should be heading to France in July, all going to plan. "I think he will be in the Tour, although with all the crashes and horrible injuries we've had as a team this year, I don't take that for granted," he told Cyclingnews on Wednesday.
Martin won the Route du Sud last year, then followed up his first pro victory with a dominant display in the Irish national championships. He took a number of other good results in what was an impressive first season in the professional ranks. This year has confirmed that talent, even if he missed some races due to illness.
Catalunya is the high point thus far. He was third and second on mountain stages, attacking race leader Alejandro Valverde on the summit finish in Andorra and closing to within six seconds of stage winner Julian Sanchez (Contentpolis-AMPO). That moved him to 15 seconds off Valverde's white jersey of GC leader. He hoped to take more time out of him but the flatter nature of the final three stages made that impossible.
"I am very happy with second in what is a very old prestigious bike race in my adopted home region," Martin said afterwards. "But I am [also] a racer and my initial thoughts were of course disappointment. It was not really for the general classification, as I never expected to be so competitive, but to miss out on a stage win was a blow as the team worked so hard for me."
Nevertheless, he took several positives from the race. "We managed to mix aggressive tactics in every stage with a strong collective that helped me stay fresh as possible as the other teams attacked to gain time. Team work was especially important with the super-hot conditions, as I drank about a dozen bottles the day I got second.
"For me, it was just fun to be racing hard again. By racing, I mean attacking for the win, and that only gives me confidence for the next few races."
Vaughters has long heralded Martin's talent, chasing him when he was an amateur rider and making sure he made his pro debut with the American team. He's delighted with the Catalunya performance.
"Obviously, I'm super happy," he said. "It shows how well Dan is progressing in our program. He's a rider I made a firm bet on a few years ago, so anytime he does well, I feel very happy for him.
"However, I think his performance is simply in line with his talent and work ethic. And I imagine he'll be showing us quite a bit more in the next few months."
The Birmingham-born Irishman will now concentrate on training for the Tour. The only race scheduled for him by the team prior to that race is the Dauphinè Libèrè, although Irish supporters will hope that he will travel back to defend his national road race title.
Vaughters is uncertain what is possible for his Grande Boucle debut, as the team are still discovering what he is capable of. "If everything goes just right for Dan in the Tour, he could be a white jersey contender," he said, before clarifying that it was too soon to make big predictions. "But we don't know, really, as he's never done a three week race before."
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