'What the hell am I doing?': How riders such as Dan Martin launched their careers on the French circuit

The wheel tracks of many a young rider’s quest for pro success weave across France. Vern Pitt speaks to a selection of those who moved there to make them

Dan Martin (Getty)

It was 11pm when the car pulled up outside the team apartment in Marseille, France. Mid-December rolled out its customary inauspicious welcome of lashing rain and a chilling howling gale for the pale skinny 19-year-old from Birmingham who exited it. There was no one else home as he made his way inside and hunkered down for the night. Alone. It was the start of something that would eventually see him realise dreams of winning a Monument and stages of the Tour de France. But he didn’t know any of that as the shutters banged and the constant rain rapped on them. "What the hell am I doing?" thought Dan Martin, then of Vélo-Club La Pomme Marseille, now Israel Start-Up Nation.

What he was doing was following a well-worn road to cycling’s elite levels that bore the wheeltracks of British riders from throughout the post-war period. Though Belgium and the Netherlands are also popular, and Italy and Spain have been used as stepping stones for aspiring pros over the years, few countries offer the full gamut of terrain combined with the race programme, bunch depth and the history and reverence of cycling that France has.

Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Having trained as a journalist at Cardiff University I spent eight years working as a business journalist covering everything from social care, to construction to the legal profession and riding my bike at the weekends and evenings. When a friend told me Cycling Weekly was looking for a news editor, I didn't give myself much chance of landing the role, but I did and joined the publication in 2016. Since then I've covered Tours de France, World Championships, hour records, spring classics and races in the Middle East. On top of that, since becoming features editor in 2017 I've also been lucky enough to get myself sent to ride my bike for magazine pieces in Portugal and across the UK. They've all been fun but I have an enduring passion for covering the national track championships. It might not be the most glamorous but it's got a real community feeling to it.