Dream move or biggest gamble of Dan Martin’s career?

Posted on: October 18th, 2017

Dan Martin transfer to UAE Team Emirates, the risks

Two killer instinct riders with big talents who both tend to go their own way. Can Dan Martin and Fabio Aru really co-exist at UAE Team Emirates for the next two years?


Dan Martin transfer to UAE Team Emirates; the risks


The logic of Dan Martin’s move to UAE Team Emirates is a simple one. Over the past two years his consistency has developed to bullet proof levels. And combined with the class he has always had; it now makes him a real Grand Tour contender.

A podium in Paris at the end of next July would be a wonderful result. It would surprise nobody.

Even emulating his uncle Stephen Roche and winning the Tour is not beyond him.

For the past two seasons, as he has really hit the spot almost every time he’s raced, QuickStep did little for him on the biggest stage. The team’s approach to the Tour de France this year was to build a lead-out train for Marcel Kittel.

Dan Martin was designated just one climbing domestique; Gianluca Brambilla. Kittel popped up and won five stages and Martin was left to his own devices in the mountains.

By going to UAE Emirates, Dan Martin is entering an environment where, from the outset, the goal is to build a team around him for the Tour de France.

He had no support with QuickStep at the Tour. This time he will. Therefore it’s a great move; that’s the logic.

Martin is now aged 31 years. He’ll be within three weeks of his 32nd birthday when the peloton rolls onto the Avenue des Champs-Élysées at the end of next July.

By the time is two-year contract ends he’ll be 33-years-old. He believes his best years are to come. And given his incredible progress with his consistency in the last two seasons, we suspect he’s right.

But these next two years are crucial. It is likely these will be the peak seasons. It’s unlikely his chances of making a podium at a Grand Tour, or even winning one, will improve after the expiry of the contract he is now entering into.

The stakes couldn’t be much higher. And while the support he has longed for has been promised, his move is not without risks.

Let’s have a look at the biggest factors Dan Martin needs to watch out for with his transfer.

Fabio Aru riding the Tour

The Italian being on the Tour start line is probably the single biggest risk factor for Martin. They are both now signed to the team as Grand Tour contenders.

Again, the logic with having such similar horses in the same stable is nice and neat; Martin for the Tour, Aru for the Giro.

It seems realistic that Aru’s focus is indeed the Giro next year. All going well, he will ride that race and skip the Tour, coming back for the Vuelta. Martin is likely to ride both the Tour and Vuelta.

If the team sticks to that plan there should be enough room for everyone’s plans. But any attempt to include Aru in the Tour team would spell disaster for Martin.

If Aru were to miss the Giro, as he did this year, he will definitely ride the Tour. If he rides the Giro and does poorly – especially if he were to abandon – the pressure may be on to ride the Tour.

Dan Martin must hope Fabio Aru rides the Giro, and with a bit of luck wins it; and that his absence from the Tour is as much the plan next May or June as it is now.

The pecking order

Who is the bigger rider; Dan Martin or Fabio Aru? Who, for example, is being paid more? Reluctantly we’d have to say ‘Aru’ in response to both questions.

Aru has started eight Grand Tours in his career and finished them all. In five of them he has finished 5th or higher. He’s been on the podium three times; 3rd and 2nd in the Giros of 2014 and 2015 and winning the Vuelta in 2015.

Dan Martin’s best Grand Tour was 6th in the Tour this year, and he was 9th last year. He was also 7th in the 2014 Vuelta.

The Irishman has a stage win in both the Vuelta and Tour to his name. Aru has won six stages in Grand Tours; one at the Tour, two at the Vuelta and three at the Giro.

Dan Martin has been great for Irish cycling, winning some of the biggest races in the world in great style and with old-school aggression everyone wants to see.

But as he, in his own words, comes into his best years he has signed for a team where he is the second best Grand Tour rider in the line-up.

It is extremely difficult to see Aru, a rider who attacks on instinct and often races as he feels, rowing in behind Dan Martin.

From the outside looking in; the impression of Aru is that he is a difficult child to love.

Some of his team mates did not exactly seem devastated when he lost the yellow jersey at the Tour this year. He also attacked when Chris Froome signalled for his team car on stage 9 of the Tour; maybe rightly so.

But the two incidents suggest he is not afraid to upset people to get to where he is going. And it is highly unlikely he’ll take any other approach to his dealings with Dan Martin.

This team will only work for Martin if he and Aru are kept apart as much as possible.

The Italian connection

UAE Team Emirates may be a team fashioned from Middle Eastern money but it is run by Italian management. It’s the former Lampre set-up rebranded and Aru is its dream signing.

Of its 29 riders this year, 16 were Italian.

If Dan Martin is firing on all cylinders, and we think he will be, the fact he is Irish in a very Italian work environment will be irrelevant.

But if any cracks were to appear in the team’s chemistry, or if Martin hits a rough patch; it is not difficult to see the Irishman up against an Italian clique within the team (as long as Aru doesn’t alienate everyone first – Ed).

As with the points above about Aru possibly starting the Tour; the Italian connection is not something that Martin needs to worry about unless and until it happens.

But it could arise at some point.

Team leadership

Dan Martin has, of course, been team leader on countless occasions in his career. But he has never really gone into a Grand Tour with a strong team behind him.

UAE Team Emirates has made that promise to him. And while he needs team mates to progress; having a squad built just for him brings pressure.

If there are two things Martin has in spades it’s confidence and an ability to handle pressure.

His killer, all or nothing, attacks when the stakes were massive at the end of Liège–Bastogne–Liège in 2013 and Il Lombardia in 2014 tell you all you need to know about him.

When he senses victory he doesn’t need to be asked twice. And he is never afraid to risk it all to win big. He doesn’t seem to do fear and pressure sits easy on him.

But going to a team that is specifically going to build a line-up around him for the Tour – and is already being clear about that – is a new pressure. It is not the same as being unafraid on the road.

Martin does not seem to be a rider who needs other riders. It is a struggle to think of even one domestique he has bonded well with on the road time and time again.

He will need to morph into that role if he is truly to hit the big time in Grand Tours. A new ability to galvanise a team behind him and to lead them on and off the bike will be central.

It will not be enough to be a really strong lone rider as he appeared to be in both Cannondale and QuickStep most of the time.

How good is the team?

It didn’t exactly set the world on fire this year. It secured 19 wins, placing it 11th of the 18 teams in the WorldTour.

But it is clearly getting much stronger in the transfer market.

So far it has signed Martin and Aru and Alexander Kristoff. But neither Kristoff nor Aru will be riding for Martin on the climbs of the Tour de France.

Who else is there to do that? Diego Ulissi, Darwin Atapuma and Rui Costa look like the key men in that regard. And if they could combine to help Martin in the mountains, that would be significant support.

The team’s record in TTTs is unknown; a crash in the Vuelta and poor performances elsewhere looks like a serious blot on its copy book.

But as a first year WorldTour team this year; we haven’t seen them often enough to be sure.

Overall verdict?

We posed a question at the start; dream move or biggest gamble of Dan Martin’s career?

Stickybottle feels the biggest potential banana skin for Martin is the presence of Aru in the team; an Italian star in what is an Italian team in all but funding.

But clearly there are some proven climbers in the team already. And for once it seems Dan Martin is getting the respect he deserves; at the centre of things from the start.

As long as Fabio Aru starts and finishes the Giro, Dan Martin’s gamble of joining the same team as him should pay off; in the first season.

What happens in 2019 really is anyone’s guess.

A win in the Giro for Aru next year will bring pressure for him to ride the Tour in 2019; a race that now seems to mean a huge amount to Martin.

Having a line-up with the two riders present in 2019 seems inescapable. And it is unlikely to end well for both stars.

Given his characteristics, Dan Martin will unlikely need any more backing in smaller stage races or the classics than the often limited support he has already received, and flourished under nonetheless.

A Fabio Aru-free Tour and even limited additional climbing support, which should eventuate, might just be enough to push Dan Martin on to the next level in the French Grand Tour.

This move is not without risk. But riders must take chances to progress. And that’s what we feel Dan Martin will do with this team; in the first of his two years with them at any rate.

Martin needs to come good at the Tour in 2018 or else 2019 could be a very unhappy time for the Irishman. Either way, 2019 looks less straightforward than next year because we feel Aru will want to ride the Tour.