In professional cycling riders say, 'The wheel turns', from the French expression 'La roué tourne', as their luck and results change in moments of success, defeat and misfortune.
For Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp), his wheel and his bad fortune turned massively for the better as he dived into the last corner at Il Lombardia on Sunday afternoon. Last year he crashed on the last corner of the race, starting a spell of misfortune that saw him crash on the last corner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège when in sight of victory, and then in the opening team time trial of the Giro d'Italia in Northern Ireland that left him battered, bruised and out of the race.
Coming out of the last corner of Il Lombardia, Martin realised he had a gap on his rivals and that his wheel and his misfortune had turned.
“I crashed on the last corner last year and that was the start of my bad luck. I think this is full circle and to win Il Lombardia is just incredible,” he said after listening to the Irish national anthem ring out across Bergamo and he realised had won his second major Classic after taking Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2013.
“I only knew I'd won when I got through the last corner without crashing. Getting through it was my big objective ...”
Martin also crashed during the Vuelta a España and at last week's World Championships but true to character, he always got back up and was convinced that he could do well at Il Lombardia.
“I've had a lot of good luck in my career and so I knew I'd have one year of bad luck but I always try to stay positive and so does the team. We always believed we'd win. After a difficult season it's actually easier to be motivated, focused and train for these races. I didn't want to end the season without a win.”
Martin came under fire for his crash at the Giro d'Italia when he hit a grid in the road at high speed and took down several of his teammates. He wanted to make up for it and pay them back.
“We work hard and getting kicked down hurts,” he said.
“In Belfast I was in the best condition I'd had and not finishing the first stage hurt. I actually caused more damage to the team and that hurt so badly. I had incredible support from Irish people, even out on the route today. It's incredible to bring it home and to follow on from Sean Kelly a few years ago.”
Racing with inspiration
Kelly is no doubt proud of the way Martin won Il Lombardia. He is the second Irishman to take the Monument win, after Kelly's wins in 1983, 1985 and 1991. He revealed his late attack was instinctive and devastating for his rivals. There was no hesitation.
“I was actually thinking of attacking on the climb but I didn't have the opportunity,” Martin explained. “I saw that [Philippe] Gilbert, [Alejandro] Valverde, [Michael] Albasini and [Rui] Costa were there and they're all very fast, so I needed to go before the sprint. I moved up to be on Gilbert's wheel, got speed, saw a gap and went. I didn't think about it, it just happened. It was inspiration.
“Then it was a case of not crashing on the last corner. I was quite nervous because I've got a track record ... but it all worked out.”
Martin knew that Kelly had won Lombardia on three previous occasions. He was too young to remember those moments but grew up wanting to ride Il Lombardia.
“Lombardia and Liège-Bastogne-Liège are my two favourite races of the year. I just love these long races and getting eighth in 2009 was when I first realised I could perhaps win it,” he said.
“Lombardia is a beautiful, beautiful race. It's the climber's Classic and it's one of the first cycling memories I have, starting when Bettini won it. I understand the history of the race. I love cycling and this is one of the biggest races of the year. To have my name on the race palmares is incredible.”
Despite being driven and ambitious, Martin surprisingly does not set himself clear career goals.
“I love racing and actually enjoy one-day races the most. I just love racing. I've proved in the Vuelta that I do the general classification but winning a Grand Tour is perhaps a few years away. There's something special about starting fresh and finishing empty. One-day Classics are more tactical, you have to take risks. I'm less conservative (as a rider) and love that kind of racing.”
“In my career, I wanted to win three races: Lombardia, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Flèche Wallonne. Now there's only one left and I was close to Flèche this year. I'm only 28 and I've already won two Monuments. But I'm going to continue racing how I do and enjoy my racing.”
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