Dan Martin will lead team Israel Start-Up Nation in the Tour de France – the first time an Israeli team will participate in the world’s greatest cycling race. The strong line-up supporting the Irishman includes Guy Niv, who will become the first Israeli rider ever to compete in the Tour, which begins on Saturday.
Martin, who won stages in the 2013 and 2018 Tours respectively was strong on his return to racing after the Covid-19 shutdown but suffered a sacral fracture in the second stage of the recent Critérium du Dauphiné.
“It’s a relief to be here” admits the Irish rider who will start his 8th Tour de France this weekend, “but also excitement as well” he continues, “as starting the Tour de France is always very special. The circumstances this year make it even more so.”
Rest, treatment and therapy have been effective, and he says, “I feel I am ready. I feel I can do something here in the Tour (but) expect to suffer through the first stages as I have missed a bit of training.”
Reflecting back on the Dauphiné crash on August 13, Martin concedes:
“It was quite a severe injury I had. I still have a fracture. Obviously it’s far from ideal and fortunately I’m here on the start line and that’s the most important thing.”
With his injury occurring only a few weeks before the Grand Départ in Nice, the Tour de France’s 2018 combativity award winner dispels any doubts about his health, physically or mentally, heading into three difficult weeks of racing:
“I would not be here if I wasn’t completely healthy and able to race because I would never take the opportunity to start the Tour de France away from one of my team mates if I wasn’t back to pretty much full health.”
Heading into this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné, a traditional prep-race for many of the Tour de France’s main participants, Martin admits to having being in good shape:
“Going into Dauphiné I was feeling in incredible condition – you don’t just lose that. It’s only been two weeks since I crashed and you don’t lose too much condition in that time.”
Though he concedes he would be happier starting Saturday’s race if he had more work done, he looks at the positive of having had an injury-enforced rest, saying:
“It would have been nice to have done a little more work but hopefully that extra little bit of rest will pay off in the third week because this is one of the most incredibly difficult Grand Tours I’ve ever seen, if not the hardest. I think it’s going to be a very challenging third week. Physically I’m ready, and mentally even more so.”
Dan Martin will lead his team in the many mountainous stages while German 11-time stage winner André Greipel will contest the sprints in his tenth consecutive Tour.
Israel Start-Up Nation’s Team Manager Kjell Carlström clearly states the squad’s aim is to win a stage at its maiden Tour:
“We have put together the team that we believe is best to execute our strategy. We are hunting for stage wins and as the route is demanding, we have ensured that we have all possibilities covered. All the teams, of course, are out for success, but we’re focused on our goal to win a stage.”
With Martin not having to concern himself with the General Classification as a result, there will be less pressure on the Irishman entering this year’s delayed Grand Boucle, something that sits easily with the former UAE Team Emirates rider:
“It’s very nice going in with no pressure on for the General Classification and I’m sure we’ll let the race unfold.”
“The main aim for the team is a stage victory”, Martin stresses, “Obviously riding the General Classification limits your opportunities as a rider to contest for stages. With the mentality of going for stage victories, the General Classification is really tricky. For us to realise our ambition for the team to get a stage victory, it’s sensible.”
With stage victories in mind, the game plan is as follows, Martin explains:
“As a team we’ll go forward and look at every stage. We can really pack every day as a new day (since we’re not contesting the GC) and try and find a tactic that we can influence to get the best result.”
With three top-ten finishes in the General Classification to his name, his experience of professional cycling tells him that despite the team plan, their priorities may change in the latter stages of the Tour:
“Obviously you never know what is going to happen. If we get to the third week and I’m there or thereabouts, we will look at it.”
Along with Martin, Greipel and Niv, the team’s strong line-up also includes Classics specialist Nils Politt, French rider Hugo Hofstetter, Krists Neilands, Ben Hermans and Tom Van Asbroeck, an outfit Martin believes “can adapt to the specifics of each day, can come together as a team to support the best rider – the rider who is best suited to the stage that we have.”
Dan Martin will be one of three Irish riders in Le Tour this year, with his first cousin Nicolas Roche, who will ride with Team Sunweb, and Sam Bennett of Deceuninck – Quick Step also starting in Nice on Saturday.