When Dan Martin turned professional as a raw 21-year-old for Jonathan Vaughters' Slipstream Sports outfit (now Garmin-Sharp) at the beginning of 2008, he joined what on first appearance seemed something of a paradox – a team with a firm anti-doping policy that was backboned by a core of veterans who had ridden for Lance Armstrong's former US Postal Service squad.
Garmin's much-publicised philosophy was a thinly-veiled response to their experiences at US Postal, but in spite of the attempts of David Zabriskie, Christian Vande Velde, Tom Danielson and manager Jonathan Vaughters to start anew, it seems the past is never quite past.
During the last two years, the quartet have provided testimony to the United States Anti-Doping Agency as it built a case against Armstrong, manager Johan Bruyneel and the doping culture fostered at US Postal. On Wednesday, USADA announced that Zabriskie, Vande Velde and Danielson would serve six-month suspensions after they confessed to doping as part of their evidence in the Armstrong case.
Speaking after he finished second on stage 3 of the Tour of Beijing on Thursday, Dan Martin said that he supported the Garmin team's decision to stand by the three veteran riders. The Irishman pointed to the anti-doping philosophy that the trio had helped to inculcate at the team, saying that he felt fortunate to have developed in such an atmosphere.
"It's hard to comment on it really because I haven't really looked into the case," Martin said in the shadow of the Great Wall of China at Badaling. "Garmin-Sharp's philosophy is anti-doping and we're going to stand behind those guys. We have confidence in those guys and I'll be happy to have them back racing as soon as possible, and that's all I really want to say really."
Zabriskie, Vande Velde, Danielson and Vaughters' implication in doping practices at US Postal Service has long cast a shadow, and its hue grew ever darker as the federal and USADA investigations into Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel's team gathered pace.
De Telegraaf reported during this year's Tour de France that Zabriskie, Vande Velde and Danielson would be among the riders who would receive reduced six-month doping suspensions from USADA in return for their testimony against the doping culture at the US Postal team, but Martin said that the mounting speculation surrounding the fall-out from the Armstrong case never impinged on morale at Garmin-Sharp.
"We haven't really let it affect us," he said. "We're proving every day that it's possible to win clean – Ryder [Hesjedal] won the Giro clean.
"I'm very fortunate to have been able to turn professional when I did and ride for a team like Slipstream Sports, and that's why I'm very happy to continue with the team – the very strict anti-doping policy and the philosophy of the team. That's very important for me and something that all of the riders believe in."
Martin said that he also took encouragement from the fact that Vande Velde had produced the stand-out performance of his career while racing for Garmin, when he finished 4th at the 2008 Tour de France. Vande Velde has been stripped of his results from June 4, 2004 through until April 30, 2006 and handed a six-month ban following his confession.
"Christian's proven that he's stronger than ever since he came to this team. He's had his best results while racing clean at Garmin," Martin said. "That says a lot, and that goes for all three of those guys, not just Christian."
Martin was philosophical when asked if he was frustrated that his teammates' past sins were overshadowing his own current efforts on the road. "I suppose it's frustrating if it puts new sponsors and fans off the sport, but we're doing what we're doing now and that's about as much as we can do," he said. "We can't change what happened in the past. We've just got to move on and continue what we're doing."
Martin was speaking after he had finished in a fine second place on stage three of the Tour of Beijing to Badaling. The Irishman was pipped in the uphill sprint by Francesco Gavazzi (Astana), but moves up to 3rd overall, 50 seconds down on Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).
"The finish wasn't as hard as I would have liked it to be, but we somehow managed to get a good result," Martin said. "I'm just a bit disappointed to miss out on the stage win by half a bike length, the road just kind of ramped up a bit towards the end and I was a bit over-geared for the last 25-30 metres. But Gavazzi's a faster sprinter than me, so I was happy enough to get second and the time bonus."
In spite of being the last race on the WorldTour calendar and in spite of its lack of heritage, the second edition of the Tour of Beijing has been the site of some fiercely contested racing, something which Martin feels is an unavoidable consequence of the ongoing arms race to accumulate WorldTour points at every available opportunity.
"I think it just shows how crazy cycling's gone with these silly points everyone is chasing. The sport's becoming more and more professional every year," he said. "Every day has been fast so far but hopefully it's a bit quieter tomorrow, and then maybe on the last day we can try something on the last climb."
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