Here’s the thing about Dan Martin. He’ll never go down without a fight.
Maybe it’s that reason, along with his clear pedigree, why he has recorded five podiums amongst eight top 10 finishes across both La Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Historic races he’ll line up for once again this coming week.
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La Flèche Wallonne is the one he hasn’t won (winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2013), and is therefore the victory he really wants to add to his CV.
“I immediately loved it when I rode on the Flèche Wallonne for the first time in 2008,” Martin said. “The ambience is very special. It is so nervous; everyone battles to keep their position and the tension rises just until the final climb of the Mur de Huy. It is very strategic. It is great and tough. I have fallen almost as much as I have finished on the podium, but it’s a race I would really like to win.”
Having recorded three podium places in the last five years, you would assume Martin had some inkling of what he has to do to go just a bit better, and finally walk up to the top step himself. “It is all about training. I hope this year the Tour of the Basque Country has given me the explosiveness to battle in the Classics. I also have experience on my side, I know how to manage these races and I hope to reach my objective this year.”
The Irishman points to his early season consistency, with 5th on the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, 7th on the UAE Tour and 2nd in the Basque Country. “I haven’t won yet, but I have battled with the best. These are not amazing results, but it’s been a decent year and now I am aiming for a win in a big race…a Classic.”
In terms of who will stop Martin, it’s fair to say he has some competition. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) lines up as not only a five-time winner of the race, but also now as world champion. “Alejandro, is Alejandro…” says Martin, “and he loves these races as much as I do. He no longer has the pressure to win, after winning as much as he has, but he will have a great time riding with his world champion’s jersey.
“He is still the favourite and he will have to be watched, but you cannot base your race on just one rider. There are a lot of favourites, the level is very high this year and for sure it will be wide open.”
These other favourites include Julian Alaphilippe, whose Deceuninck – Quick-Step team have had an unrelenting success rate in the spring Classics so far. Of course, this was Martin’s old team before he moved to UAE Team Emirates last season.
Naturally, he wishes the Frenchman well after his crash and subsequent abandonment of the Tour of the Basque Country, and says we’ll see how much of Alaphilippe’s form remains on the Flèche, saying that maybe his rival is more suited to these races since the 32-year-old continues to primarily focus on Grand Tour ambitions.
All this talk of winning the race he hasn’t yet won doesn’t mean Martin wouldn’t love to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège for a second time. He’s already come close again, falling on the final corner in 2014 as well as finishing second in 2018.
Martin may face a new rival for La Doyenne this year, with course changes opening the race up to who else but Peter Sagan, the Slovakian taking the start line for the first time in his career. “We will see about Sagan, but for sure the final stretch suits him better. Before that he will also have to be fast on the climbs,” said Martin.
“It will be a different race. More open than usual. It will be aggressive. It will take a very strong team and luckily, I have one.”
Martin added: “The last few years, everyone has waited for the final climb. But the course is different this year, so the attacks will come earlier. I am very curious about it. I will go to recce and then think about a strategy.”
Honest yet determined is the best way to sum up Martin, who will take his quiet confidence and try and convert his podium places into victories: “I always head to the Ardennes with a lot of motivation. It is a big week of racing. I’m really looking to it.”