The experienced Irishman headlines the UAE Team Emirates squad at the Volta a Catalunya, with Liege-Bastogne-Liege as well as the Tour among his major objectives in 2019.
“It’s been consistent and that’s what I wanted to get back after last year,” he says of his season thus far. “Last year was really low, or really high.”
Martin’s victory on the Mur-de-Bretagne was one of the most emphatic of the 2018 Tour that he finished eighth overall. It followed fourth place on the general classification and a stage five victory at the Criterium du Dauphine in which the 32-year-old best Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott). Neither of the triumphs rate a first mention, however, when Martin reviews his debut with the overhauled Emirates outfit.
“Dave Millar said that to me one year, that he won a stage of the Tour and everyone thought it was his best season ever. It was actually his worst season ever, he just won a stage of the Tour,” Martin says.
“I figured out last year basically what doesn’t work for me and that led to me finding out exactly what I need in races to perform. We managed to put all the pieces together by June. That’s why, hopefully, we’ll be able to hit the ground better this year and get more consistency during the season.
“I learned what makes me tick in a race, I’ve learnt how to approach races and that’s how I’m approaching this season. All the pressure I put myself under at the start of the [last] season, I was trying too hard to win.”
Martin found himself disenchanted with the job at the beginning of 2018, which he believes contributed to his two total albeit quality victories.
“It comes down to I race my bike because I like doing it. I lost track of that,” he says. “The nutrition during the race, I wasn’t fuelling properly. It was a big mix of things. My training wasn’t quite what it should have been, coming into the new team, new coach, it didn’t quite fit together. I’ve always taken responsibility for that myself and that’s what happened. Once it got to before the classics, I thought I need to control every single little detail. I reset my head and went back to, I said it a lot during the Tour, racing with a smile on my face.”
Martin in a two-year stint at QuickStep was essentially a lone wolf in a squad otherwise designed around sprinters at the Tour. The fact made his consistent top 10 performances more impressive, especially given the full arsenal rivals like Thomas and Chris Froome (Sky) have at their disposal.
“I think it comes down to the way I’ve always had to race in my career, I’ve never been in the strongest teams. As a GC rider as well, I don’t mind being in a sprinter’s team because you get a lot of help in the flat stages and then on the mountain stages the races are generally quite controlled,” he says.
“If you have a bad moment you are a little bit vulnerable but then it’s motivation not to have a bad moment! There is only so much help a teammate can actually do for you in the mountains. I think if it was a choice between having four climbers in the team with me or a few extra flat guys to protect you on the flat, I’d definitely choose the flat riders.”
UAE Team Emirates is set to take both Colombian sprint sensation Fernando Gaviria, who joins the squad this season, as well Alexander Kristoff to the Tour, meaning Martin may again be in a similar situation.
“You have to learn to work off the other teams tactically and predict what they’re going to do. It’s about staying relaxed,” he says.
“The one way it is harder is because you get to the top of the climbs and it’s a big fight for position. That’s what people don’t see on TV, there is a fight for position at the top of the climb for the downhill. If you’re on your own, you can get pushed out of the way by all these teams.
“The Tour, there is a way of racing it that I seem to have nailed,” he adds. “You have to let the race go almost and go with the flow.”
Martin has a happy history at the Volta a Catalunya, which he won in 2013. He started the race on the back of a seventh-place finish at the UAE Tour. The climber’s lead-up to that was disrupted by illness following the Tour of Valencia in which placed fourth on the general classification.
“Everyone always gets so caught up on aiming for this race or aiming for that race. I just want to enjoy racing. Every race is important these days so any result you can get, you have to take advantage of your form. You miss opportunities in the present if you’re all the time looking to the future,” he says.