As the winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège and a hard-fought stage of the Tour de France, Irishman Dan Martin heads into the final Monument of the season, Il Lombardia (Tour of Lombardy), as one of the odds-on favourites for the victory, but the Garmin-Sharp rider thinks that the race could be as unpredictable as the weather forecast.
"It's hard to know at the end of the year, one day is good and then one day is bad," Martin told Cyclingnews. "I was surprised how it went on Wednesday [he was 11th in Milano-Torino]. I didn't feel that good, but the result wasn't bad. Tomorrow will depend on the weather. Everyone's a bit cracked at this point in the year with all the bad weather.
"If it's wet, it's going to be a real psychological battle. I love this race, so I'm looking forward to it."
The selection will come relatively early, with the Valico di Valcava just 82km into the race, but the real meat of the course comes on the Colma di Sormano - a 10km ascent that kicks up to 27 percent near the top, followed by an extremely dicey decent that has proved critical in the past - last year's thunderstorms only added to the risks. It makes the 10km Madonna del Ghisallo climb to the cyclists' sanctuary and the 3.2km Villa Vergano just before the finish pale in comparison.
"You saw how dangerous the race can be last year with the downhill - the Sormano is one of the most dangerous downhills of any WorldTour racing, especially if it's wet, but it's part of the race and part of what makes this race special. It's a beautiful finish and the last climb is a really fitting way to end the European WorldTour season. It's going to be a real battle between the normal contestants. It always seems to come down to the same guys in this race."
Coming second in this race in 2011, leading home a select chase group behind unexpected champion Oliver Zaugg and topping none other than Joaquim Rodriguez in the sprint, Martin has already demonstrated his abilities on the course, but now that he's started turning out better and more consistent results, he has to tune his racing to his reputation.
"It's definitely going to be different. I've got the same frame of mind, but obviously the success I've had will give me more confidence and respect. I'm a bit more of a marked man these days, and it makes you race differently. Before I could follow, follow, follow and nobody would really pay attention to me, but now everybody knows my strengths and maybe my weaknesses too. It makes you race differently."
Having now graduated to the ranks of marked men, Martin also finds himself as one of the more veteran riders on an increasingly young Garmin team. At 27, he is evolving into a strong team leader, one who can place himself with confidence in an elite group of riders who can win Monuments and contend for Grand Tours as well. Yet he takes caution when asked if he will target an overall Grand Tour victory or any race for that matter.
"There's no reason you can't do both," he said when asked if he would rather target the Tour over the one-day races. "If you race with overall in mind you miss opportunities. If I had been thinking only of the GC [in the Tour de France] I might not have been so aggressive the day I won. And on stage 18 when I got sick, it would have been wasted. I proved this year that I'm capable of riding a good GC in the Tour. I would have been top 10 if I hadn't gotten sick.
"I think I can podium in a Grand Tour. I also like this race [Lombardy], too. Guys like [Vincenzo] Nibali and Rodriguez - the same type of rider is winning one days and Grand Tours now. Fortunately I seem to have the characteristics to fit into that group.
"I think cycling may be changing in that respect, that riders are good all year around. I seem to be getting to that level, I have the consistency to be good throughout the season, and that's what has made this year so special."
Next year will have another special feature for Martin, the Giro d'Italia, which starts in Ireland, will be on his calendar and he will get the chance to race in front of his family and friends on home soil.
"I will have so many family and friends at the start, especially for the Dublin stage," Martin said. "To start a race in Ireland...The world will see how big cycling has become in Ireland. It's going to be a great week for cycling."
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