A victorius and delighted Martin flanked by runner up Rodriguez and third placed Valverde
By Gerard Cromwell
It’s been hours since Dan Martin rode away from Spaniard Joaquin Rodriguez in the final 300m of Liege-Bastogne-Liege to emphatically claim the first classic victory of his short but prolific professional career but he still he hasn’t taken it in.
Martin has dreamt of winning ‘La Doyenne’ since he turned pro with the little known Team Slipstream in 2009 and even though he told some of the team staff that he was going to win it this year, he still can’t believe that he has.
“It’s crazy,” he says as he makes his way back to his Girona base after 10 days holed up in a hotel room in Belgium for the Ardennes Classics.
“I’m still in shock. I can’t believe it. My face was probably a picture when I came across the line. I was pretty stunned.”
His recent victory at the Tour of Catalonia marked him out as an outsider for one of the Ardennes Classics but a crash at Amstel Gold put paid to Martin’s chances in Valkenburg, leaving him with just two more chances to make an impression.
“I had a few mechanical problems at Amstel,” he says. “We tried to fix them but I ended up changing my bike and I had a few other issues as well. I was overdressed. I missed a couple of bottles and then I crashed out.”
His hopes at Fleche-Wallone looked to be up in smoke when he punctured in the final 20km but some good team riding saw him back in contention at the bottom of the Mur de Huy and a fast finish left him agonisingly close to the podium, the former Irish champion simply running out of road before he could pass Colombian Carlos Betancur of Ag2r.
“Everything went perfectly on Wednesday until the flat tyre,” he says.
“The guys really looked after me all day and I was ruing my luck when the puncture happened but Pete (Stetina) gave me his wheel straight away and I was able to stay composed. I got back into the group and the guys worked perfectly to get me into position at the bottom of the Mur de Huy.”
“I got a bit held up at around 250m to go, so it was tough to just miss out on the podium by a couple of inches, but I said on Friday that all I needed was a bit of luck in one of these races. I think I’ve always had the capacity to win one. It’s just that I’ve either been working for teammates or had bad luck. Allergies have affected me at this time of the year too, but we seem to have conquered them now.”
“I was eighth in Lombardia in 2009, my second year pro and for sure, age and maturity have made me stronger every year and I’m improving. I always believed that I’d be capable of winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege one day but for it to happen so soon in my career and in the fashion that I did it today….”
“I was probably the strongest guy in the race, and with the field I was up against, all the top riders, that’s pretty incredible. I’m still pretty much in shock. I had to really double check there was nobody behind me a few times at the finish. It was like ‘Wow, I’m going to cross the finish line first’. It’s a dream.”
A big part of Martin’s success is down to the faith shown in him by his Garmin Sharp squad and, towards the end of today’s race, some selfless riding by last year’s Giro d’Italia winner and co-leader Ryder Hesjedal.
“I think I pretty much rode a perfect race today. When I was coming into the finale I was happy with the fact that I wouldn’t have done anything different all day. It felt like the easiest day at Liege I’ve ever done.”
“That’s testament to how my teammates rode. All the time I was in a good position where I needed to be. I didn’t have to make much effort. They kept me fed and watered and looked after me. It really was a great team effort. I’ve never seen them ride so well before. The team really believed in me. They really protected myself and Ryder today and it worked out in the final. For Ryder to… without any question at all… to lay himself down for me, kill himself, the same as he did in Catalonia, was incredible. I can’t thank the guys enough.”
Although Martin was positioned well in the lead group of six in the final kilometre, he was still surrounded by some of the big names of the sport including last year’s world number one Rodriguez, Betancur, Alejandro Valverde and wily Italian Michele Scarponi. With Hesjedal fading as Rodriguez attacked in the final kilometre, it was up to Martin to execute the plan.
“That was why I hesitated when Rodriguez attacked,” he explains. “I was trying to make Valverde close him down. When he didn’t, I could see he didn’t have the legs so I knew I had to go. I thought I messed it up a bit when I let Rodriguez get too big of a gap but luckily I had the legs to get back to him. As soon as I caught him I was quite confident to be honest. As soon as I caught him, I saw his head drop. When I attacked I even managed to get a little bit of time to be able to celebrate it properly.”
As an amateur, Martin’s climbing prowess saw most of the world’s top teams clamber for his signature in 2009 but he raised eyebrows by signing for the little known Team Slipstream at the time due largely to their stringent anti-doping policy.
Since then, both Martin and the team, now Garmin Sharp, have grown in stature and are among the best in the world.
“The team philosophy really fits well with me, both the clean riding philosophy and the fun atmosphere. And the humane aspect, the fact that we’re fallible. It’s not always about winning but this team spirit we’ve got. I think you saw it again today. Everybody played a great part in this win and we celebrated pretty hard at the finish line.”
“I hope this inspires all the young guys out there to really believe it can be done clean. Obviously with Garmin we’ve had Ryder win the Giro last year and even with Brad (Wiggins) winning the Tour last year that, for me, made me believe that you can win clean.”
“Now I know you can win clean. It’s a great feeling and I’m proud that so many people believe in me. We’re riding clean and that’s something that’s really important to me. It’s always been really important to me and now I’ve won the biggest classic of the year, clean. It’s an incredible feeling.”