Last week, Cycling Ireland announced the names of the riders who will fill the country?s two places in the road race at the Olympic Games in Beijing.
Philip Deignan of Ag2r and Nicolas Roche of Crédit Agricole will tackle the 245-kilometre event in the Chinese capital, a race that features as much climbing as the toughest of Pyrenean mountain stages.
Had Cycling Ireland waited until this week to name the team, perhaps 21-year-old Daniel Martin, who has just won the Route du Sud, would have been in it.
And had Martin not opted, as an under-23 rider, to represent Ireland instead of Great Britain, he would certainly have been on the plane to Beijing in red, white and blue.
Great Britain has four places in the road race, and a conundrum about how to fill them. As Rod Ellingworth, British Cycling?s Academy coach, contends: ?If he [Martin] was British, he?d definitely be riding the Olympics.?
Birmingham-born Martin has cycling in his genes. His father is a former British professional, Neil, and his mother is the sister of Stephen Roche, the 1987 Tour de France champion. And after his debut professional win for the Slipstream-Chipotle team, it?s clear that all the talk of how gifted a climber he is, was no over-statement.
Martin represented Great Britain as a junior. In 2004, he was part of the team that took part in the junior road race at the World Championships in Verona. That day, Martin left his shoes behind and had to ride the first lap in trainers, before a soigneur could retrieve his correct footwear.
The winner was Roman Kreuziger, the Czech rider who on Sunday clinched an even bigger stage race win than Martin, when he took the Tour of Switzerland. Britain?s best finisher in Verona was Geraint Thomas, who was 14th. Martin was 65th, nine minutes down.
WRONG SIDE OF THE TRACK
But whereas Thomas was absorbed into the British Cycling Academy because of his ability on the track, Martin found himself on the fringes.
British Cycling?s performance director Dave Brailsford acknowledges that Martin slipped through the net. ?First of all, you have to say ? what a brilliant ride to win a race like that,? says Brailsford. ?Congratulations to him.
?He was in the same year as Cav [Mark Cavendish] and Geraint, but we simply didn?t have a road programme then.
?It?s fair to say he probably feels he had a rough deal from us, and he may have a point.
?But we didn?t have Italy then. We only moved to Italy at the start of 2007. It was always in the pipeline but it was still a long way away.
?On the other hand, that year we had six riders in the Academy and three of them are world champions.?
The riders were Ed Clancy, Geraint Thomas, Mark Cavendish, Matt Brammeier, Tom White and Bruce Edgar, brother of Ross. Martin pursued his dream on the road with the help of Dave Rayner funding. He took the traditional route, some would say he did it The Hard Way. He went to France to ride for VC La Pomme, a respected club based near Marseille. It?s where his cousin, Nicolas Roche, also rode as an amateur.
Martin was frustrated at the lack of opportunities but when CW spoke to him late last year about his decision to ride for Ireland, he explained that being Irish, and a relative of Roche, unlocked doors in France.
If he had been as good a pursuiter as he is a climber, Martin would have been gold dust for British Cycling. But, he said: ?If you didn?t ride track they weren?t really interested. I understand why it has to be that way but they?re not going to make really top stage race riders that way. The system doesn?t suit a rider like me.?
So could Martin be the Tour de France contender Britain never had?
MAKING HIS OWN MARK
?I had Dan in a British junior team ? I can?t remember where it was to now ? but I remember he obviously had a lot of talent,? says Ellingworth. ?At the time, there was that track emphasis but we always had a long-term plan to develop the road side. The problem for someone like Dan was he couldn?t wait around while we got things set up. He had his career to think of.
?At the time we had to have that solid, guaranteed investment that came as a result of doing well on the track. That track success has enabled us to start developing road riders but it didn?t come quickly enough for Dan.
?He slipped through the net, I suppose. He fell between the period when John [Herety] was taking the likes of Yanto [Barker] and Charly [Wegelius] abroad, and the setting up of the Academy in Tuscany.
?A lot of people will make something of how he decided to ride for Ireland. Yes, British Cycling has lost a rider who could have ridden for Great Britain, and that is unfortunate, but I prefer to think about the riders and what?s best for them.
?It?s not all about British Cycling, it?s about these guys and what they want to do in their careers. He?s chosen absolutely the right path for him and at this stage of his career he?s getting everything he wants.?
COULD HE RIDE FOR GREAT BRITAIN AGAIN
If Martin was racing on a British licence, he?d be heading to Beijing, there can be little doubt about that. British Cycling?s fondness for exposing young talent to the highest peaks of competition at the earliest constructive opportunity shows that.
Martin has opted to ride for Ireland, and that is his prerogative, after all, he has a strong claim to the emerald isle ? unlike some of the plastic Irishmen who played for the country?s football team when Jack Charlton was manager in the 1990s.
But the door is never closed to him.
Brailsford adds: ?He?s an out-and-out climber and we couldn?t accommodate him at the time, which is a shame. If he was coming through now, things would be very different. We?d be able to offer him what he wanted and needed, but at the time we didn?t have that.
?A rider?s nationality is a matter for them. If he feels Irish, that is totally up to him, but should he ever change his mind, we?d welcome him back with open arms.?
So could Martin ever switch nationalities? In theory, as long as he holds dual-nationality, yes. His cousin, Nicolas, has ridden as a Frenchman and now an Irishman, after all, although he never represented France at international level.
But looking at the wider picture, with a British professional team looking ever more likely for 2010, Martin?s current employer, Jonathan Vaughters, may have a fight on his hands.