Dan Martin: UAE Team Emirates have the riders to achieve 'great things' at Tour de France
Irish rider in confident mood ahead of his seventh appearance at the famous race, which will celebrate 100 years since the introduction of the yellow jersey
Few riders will enter the 2019 Tour de France with greater experience and pedigree than Dan Martin. Competing in his fifth successive Tour, and seventh overall, the Irish cyclist will once again be leading the charge for UAE Team Emirates when the world's most famous road race gets under way on Saturday.
A two-time stage winner, Martin has finished in the top 10 of the general classification standings in each of the past three editions, including last year's eighth on his UAE Team Emirates debut. He also named the most combative rider in 2018.
Unsurprisingly for an athlete of Martin's ability and ambition, he is aiming to go even better this year.
“Last year’s stage win was an amazing feeling, so obviously I’d like to win another," the 32-year-old Irishman told The National. "The general classification is always the target and if we can put up a fight and finish well in that then I’ll be pleased.”
While the general classification title is awarded to an individual rider, success at the Tour de France is undoubtedly a team effort, and Martin will need to rely on his colleagues throughout the 21-stage race if he is to achieve his and the team's aims.
Alexander Kristoff, who won last year's final stage on the streets of Paris, will provide the main sprint threat for UAE Team Emirates, while former world champion Rui Costa and 2015 Vuelta a Espana winner Fabio Aru offer enormous experience.
The four riders will be supported by Norwegian national champion Vegard Stake Laengen, his compatriot Sven Erik Bystrom, Colombian Sergio Henao and Belgian Jasper Philipsen, who will make his Tour de France debut.
It is a line-up that fills Martin with confidence. “It has a good mix of guys, all with different strengths. We have a proven sprinter with Alexander Kristoff, who I’m sure will be hoping for another stage win after the one he picked up last year.
"It’s great to see Fabio Aru back in the team as well – he is so passionate, but maybe hasn’t had the rub of the green over the past year, so I’m sure he will be eager to go out and prove a point. But there is no pressure or expectation on him and mentally that can be a real help.
"I believe the team has some of the best domestiques (support riders) around, and I know I’ll be able to rely on them when the going gets tough. It’s just a great all-round team, great atmosphere and positive vibe. I’m sure we can do great things together.”
Martin's tribute to Aru refers to his teammate's rotten luck with injury since joining UAE Team Emirates at the start of last season. The 29-year-old Italian is making his competitive return to the bike after undergoing surgery on a leg injury in March.
“Having him back is a real bonus," Martin said. "He is a Tour de France stage winner and an experienced grand tour rider so it’s great to see him back in the saddle. It will be interesting to see how he can help the team achieve our goals.”
This year's Tour de France, which will cover 6,155 kilometres, is celebrating two significant anniversaries. It is 50 years since the great Eddy Merckx won the first of his joint-record five Tour titles, and the Belgian's achievements will be commemorated when the Tour stages its Grand Depart (opening stage) in Brussels.
Even more historic, the 2019 Tour marks 100 years of the famous yellow jersey - awarded to the general classification leader during the race and the overall winner upon the Tour's conclusion.
It is this rich history that helps to transcend the Tour de France beyond die-hard cycling fans, and it is certainly not lost on Martin.
"You feel it from the moment you arrive at the Grand Depart, to the moment you cross the finish line in Paris," he said. "The atmosphere the fans create is electric and it ripples through the peloton. It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
"To have a race that is so old, but still has that impact just goes to show how important this race is to the sport.”
Updated: July 7, 2019 08:45 AM