Dan Martin will be riding into the unknown at the Tour de France as he targets a stage victory over the next three weeks.
Martin, 34, will start his ninth Tour when the race rolls out of Brest on Saturday morning, but this is the first time he is taking on a Giro-Tour double, having finished the gruelling Italian race just three-and-a-half weeks ago.
“It’s a new experience for me,” Martin told the PA news agency. “I feel good in training but it’s hard to know my form. I’ve been doing short efforts in Andorra but I haven’t done any speed work so these first few days are definitely going to hurt.”
Martin enjoyed three consecutive top-10 finishes in the Tour between 2016 and 2018, while his best ever Grand Tour finish came last November with fourth in the Vuelta a Espana.
The Irishman finished 10th in the Giro d’Italia, where he also won stage 17 to Sega di Ala, but given the efforts exerted in Italy, he has no designs on the general classification in France.
His Israel Start-Up Nation squad, which also includes Chris Froome, Michael Woods and Andre Greipel, is focused on delivering a first stage win at the Tour in the team’s short history.
“When we analysed the courses, we looked at this Tour with its 60 kilometres of time trials and the limited amount of mountain-top finishes and we didn’t think it was a route where I could improve on my sixth place (from 2019),” he said.
“But it is a route where I can use my abilities to get a stage victory.
“When you’re riding GC you’re in the game every day and you can lose the race at any moment so it’s very challenging, but with this you’re putting a lot of pressure on certain stages and in some ways that’s even more challenging because you’re sticking your neck out.”
Eyes will be on Martin when stage two finishes on the Mur-de-Bretagne, where he took victory in the 2018 Tour, though he downplayed the chances of a repeat as he focuses on opportunities later in the race.
“In 2018 the stars aligned to some extent and I was able to get a victory I’m very proud of,” he said. “There were only GC riders left at the end and everybody looked at each other so I was able to hold a gap to the finish.
“Cycling has changed a little bit since then and you see a lot more of the sprinter-climber types. I was a climber who could sprint a bit but now there are a lot of sprinters who can climb and I think they will make it up the Mur-de-Bretagne.
“I’ll definitely be thinking of a repeat but I think it will be very difficult to beat the likes of Julian Alaphilippe, Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel.”
Martin is one of several cards the team can play in search of the victory they crave. Cycling seems to get younger and younger but it is not a trend being followed by Israel Start-Up Nation.
Froome is 36 and still on the long road back from his devastating crash in 2019, while the sprinter Greipel, an 11-time Tour stage winner, remains competitive at the age of 38. Woods, a two-time Vuelta stage winner, will start only his second Tour at the age of 34.
“We’re having a great time at the dinner table!” Martin said. “When you can talk about things other than the race and have those personalities it makes you race well because you really bond.
“We have that experience – well, you can replace experience with age – but there’s very few egos here. Although we’ve got star riders like Chris and Andre, we know how important it is to the team to get a victory and how much we will all enjoy it if that happens.”