Illness has tempered Dan Martin's Tour de France to date but the Garmin-Sharp rider is hoping for a change in fortunes as the race enters the Pyrenees, where he has enjoyed notable success as both an amateur and a professional.
Lying 65th overall on the Tour's second rest in the shadow the Pyrenees, Martin is looking to give a different sense to his race when hostilities recommence on Wednesday. Stage 16 brings the peloton over the Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin and Peyresourde as it traverses the fearsome Circle of Death, familiar terrain for the Irishman.
Martin's overall victory at the Route du Sud in 2008 was forged in that stirring natural amphitheatre, as he traversed the Tourmalet and Peyresourde during the queen stage to Superbagnères. Long before he had entered the professional ranks, however, Martin had already made the pilgrimage to the Tour's holiest ground with his father Neil.
"We had a couple of really good holidays here when I was growing up," Martin told Cyclingnews in Pau on Tuesday. "We did an epic ride one day when I was 16. We started out from Luz-Saint-Saveur, then we did the Tourmalet, Aspin and then up to the Peyresourde to watch the Tour.
"We rode back too, so I ended up doing the both sides of the Tourmalet, both sides of the Aspin both sides and once up the Peyresourde, all in the same day. It took something like seven hours and I was only 16. I was on my knees afterwards, but I do love these mountains. They've got good memories for me."
While Martin is intimately familiar with Wednesday's set-piece stage (it is only the sixth time in history that the Big Four of the Pyrenees feature in the same day), he charts unexplored territory when the race climbs to the novel summit finish at Peyregudes on Thursday.
"You go down the Peyresourde a little bit and then go up again," he said. "I don't know it but then we rode with some locals today and they said they'd never been up it either. We've got no idea what that climb looks like. I'm looking forward to that and to riding up the Port de Balès, which I've never done myself."
Martin began the Tour slated to work for his Garmin-Sharp leader Ryder Hesjedal, but the team's crash-marred opening week saw the focus quickly shift to stage wins. Unfortunately for Martin, a nagging illness through the first half of the race meant that he was unable to make the most of his unexpected freedom.
"One day it was a sore throat, the next a cough, then a sinus," he said. "After that, it dropped onto my chest and became and turned into a kind of bronchitis. It was never really bad but it was unpleasant. I was coughing up green stuff all the time and I couldn't really breathe very well."
In spite of his ailment, Martin had the wherewithal to infiltrate the break of the day on the road to La Toussuire on stage 11, even if his efforts told as the day went on and Pierre Rolland (Europcar) rode away from his companions. "I knew that I didn't have much top-end because of my breathing, but because it was such an endurance day, nobody really goes to their max breathing, to the VO2 max area," Martin said. "But I guess I just misjudged how much my legs were affected."
If Martin is to enjoy success in the Pyrenees, however, he believes that joining the echapée matinale is not a viable option, even if the general fatigue in the peloton allowed breaks to go clear during the second week. "The problem is that everyone is so tired. Everyone is destroyed and that's why you've not been seeing groups come back for sprints on stages like Monday's," he said. "I don't think Sky will control it tomorrow, but the pace is going to be so hard behind that the break will get caught anyway."
In any case, Martin enters the final days of racing in a better state than he could have imagined before the race began. "I've almost ridden within myself here as I haven't been able to push myself," he said. "I'm feeling really, really good now and hopefully that bodes well for the coming two days."
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