Dan Martin’s decision to join Israel Cycling Academy for 2020 may have seemed like a surprise to many.
The Irish star has been an outstanding rider with victories in some of the biggest races, but he risked missing out on the most prestigious events as he stepped down from the WorldTour with UAE Team Emirates to join the Israel-based Professional Continental squad.
Martin's move may have turned out to be a stroke of genius however, as Israel Cycling Academy later announced their takeover of Katusha-Alpecin and the step up to WorldTour level as Israel Start-Up Nation.
Speaking during the team’s first training camp and official team launch in Tel Aviv, Israel last week, Martin told Cycling Weekly: “If you'd said to me this time last year that I'd be sitting here in Israel with Israel Cycling Academy, it would have been a bit of a surprise.
“Obviously a lot of people were questioning my decision to end up here but it's become clear now. The ambition of the team shines through in the fact that made this huge effort to become WorldTour in 2020.
“From the very beginning when I started talking to them they mentioned that they've had this ambition of going WorldTour. Nobody expected us to end up there so quickly, certainly myself included. It feels like the right time and with the way it's looking it's going to be good. It's going to be successful.”
He added: “I really liken it to Slipstream [Garmin-Chipotle] in 2008 - the same feeling, the same underdog status, the same happy-go-lucky attitude but performance based and the best equipment possible and we're gonna do everything we can to be competitive.
“The process of signing for the team was different to any other signing I've done before. It was almost like a job interview. I got the feeling that these guys are really delving deep into my personality and making sure that I wasn't going to come in and be disruptive and I was going to fit into the team. That seems to be the case with all the riders, because everyone seems to get on so well.”
Martin is one of the high-profile signings Israel Start-Up Nation made in the hopes of accelerating their promotion to WorldTour, alongside André Greipel who joins from Arkéa-Samsic.
Israel Cycling Academy and billionaire co-owner Sylvan Adams had been vocal about their ambitions to reach the WorldTour, but it was uncertain exactly when they could make the jump.
This summer rumours began to circulate that Israel Cycling Academy were one of a number of teams in talks with the struggling Katusha-Alpecin squad about a potential takeover.
Katusha-Alpecin was struggling to find sponsorship as Alpecin and bike sponsor Canyon planned to pull out, before Canadian-Israeli billionaire Adams stepped in to save the team and take over its WorldTour licence, while also signing a number of Katusha riders including Alex Dowsett, Rick Zabel and Nils Politt.
Martin added: “I've got a history of just following my instinct with teams. It's the same when I went to Slipstream in 2008. I could have gone to some of the biggest teams and I just followed my instinct and went with the people who wanted to work with me and there's no better feeling than that.
“From the beginning these guys just had this incredible belief in my ability and confidence that I can still improve. But also I think the whole ethos of the team and mentality, the easy-going nature and the fact that it's very relaxed.
“But it's also incredibly performance based and focused. That's shown in the equipment we've chosen for next year.”
Martin, now 33, has built up a remarkable palmarès, with victories in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Il Lombardia, two stages of the Tour de France and three top-10 overall finishes there.
During his 12-year career, there have only been two seasons when Martin failed to win a race. This season he didn't reach the top step, his best result was second on stage six of the Tour of the Basque Country, where he finished second overall.
He said: “The goal is to be as good as we can and let the results happen. We want to go into stage races and Grand Tours and not miss opportunities. We definitely changed my training last year and obviously we learned a lot from that but it didn't work.
"We just went to a lot more endurance-based training, which took away my explosiveness and we saw that in the results. I think there's only two years out of 12 that I haven't won races and this year was one of them. We just added the intensity, the explosiveness, back in this year and hopefully that'll pay dividends. I'm sure it will.
“The reason we did that last year was to chase GC ambitions at the Tour de France. There was a reasoning behind it, but this team just want to win races that's fine with me. When we do go to the Tour, I'm not going to sit up and lose time on purpose, but it's going to be the hard opening week which really suits me. We're just going to come out swinging, same in every race, and see if it works."
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Alex Ballinger is editor of BikeBiz magazine, the leading publication for the UK cycle industry, and is the former digital news editor for CyclingWeekly.com. After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter, then as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output, and now as the editor of BikeBiz. Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) Alex covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers. Away from the desk, Alex can be found racing time trials, riding BMX and mountain bikes, or exploring off-road on his gravel bike. He’s also an avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.
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