Irish rider offers a refreshingly honest assessment of the team and shares his ambitions for the future
Dan Martin interview: I'm determined to help UAE Team Emirates become 'one of the best in the world'
Dan Martin strides up to the UAE Team Emirates bus looking every inch the professional cyclist.
Decked out in full team regalia and arriving on a race bike, anyone not closely following the Vuelta a Espana would safely assume Martin was preparing to take his place on the start line.
Instead, the 32-year-old Birmingham-born Irishman has ridden down from his home in the Andorran mountains to lend support to his UAE Team Emirates colleagues ahead of the 20th and penultimate stage of the 2018 Vuelta.
Race map in hand, Martin takes a seat on the team bus and assists sports director Philippe Mauduit in the pre-race team meeting, offering advice and pointing out areas of the route where his teammates need to be wary.
“We’re a team. These are my training routes. I mean, the stage goes 600 metres past my house! I rode all the roads this morning so I could give the team 100 per cent accurate information,” Martin tells The National.
“It shows the team spirit that we’ve got here. It’s a simple gesture but if I can help in any way possible then I will.”
Martin was part of the original UAE Team Emirates line-up for the Vuelta, but withdrew prior to Stage 10, with his wife – former Olympic long-distance runner Jess Martin – at the late stage of pregnancy. As well as legitimate personal reasons, Martin reveals that the physical demands of a long season had taken their toll.
“It was really hard for me to leave the race. It’s the worst thing ever leaving your teammates behind, whatever the circumstances,” he says. “But we always knew it was going to be a risk, other than the fact that my wife is heavily, heavily pregnant.
“But also, during the Tour I didn’t realise how exhausted I was. I was fine for the first couple of days but then it was almost complete exhaustion. I didn’t have anything left in my body. It’s been a long, hard season, but just coming down today, it’s nice to see everybody again. It feels strange not being on the start line, but I don’t feel great and it’s nice to be able to go home and watch it on TV.”
Martin has certainly earned a rest. It's been non-stop since joining UAE Team Emirates at the start of the season, with a top-10 at Tour de Romandie and fourth-place at Critérium du Dauphiné among the notable achievements.
Then there was the Tour de France. Martin finished eighth in the general classification, claimed victory on Stage 6 and was named the most combative rider of the tour. Along with Martin's individual success, sprinter Alexander Kristoff won the final stage in Paris. It felt like a pivotal moment in the development of UAE Team Emirates as serious contenders on the UCI World Tour, but Martin is keen to temper expectations.
“It just shows that the team is a work in progress," he says. "I knew it would be a challenge when I got here and that was all part of the reason why I came: to try and build a team that was capable of being one of the best in the world.
"It’s been tough; it’s been a transition period. Trying to get things to change is not easy, but seeing the progress we have made throughout this season and our performances in the Tour de France shows we are improving all the time.
"If we can get a solid winter of work and really gel the team and put the team where it should be, we can keep pushing forward.”
UAE involvement in the team officially began in January 2017, when Emirati businessman Matar Suhail Al Yabhouni led a takeover of the Italian-based Lampre team after Chinese investment fell through.
In two seasons, great strides have been made, recruiting a host of top-level riders, including Martin, Kristoff and 2015 Vuelta champion Fabio Aru as UAE Team Emirates look to establish themselves at the pinnacle of professional cycling.
There is still some way to go before the team are a consistent force on the UCI World Tour, and Martin is refreshingly honest with his assessment.
Alexander Kristoff: Winning at Tour de France with UAE Team Emirates is 'amazing'
“Well, I’m incredibly impatient. I think it should happen anytime soon," he says. "That’s where they’ve had to rein me in a little bit, because I expected it to be perfect straight away and it was far from that.
"There was a lot of conflict going on: I expected the team to be going one way and it wasn’t. But we’re getting there now and I’m confident that next year we’ll be able to hit the road running and all the lessons we’ve learnt from this year will pay off.
“Sometimes it’s been incredibly disappointing," he continues. "There is no one more frustrated than the riders. We want to be at the front and we want to be winning races, and when it’s not quite clicking and not quite happening ...
"At this level, you need every last percentage - even if you’re one per cent off the competition, you’re not winning. The competition is so tight now that you really have to look at every single detail. And we are getting there now. You’re learning to work with people ... I’m sure I’m not the easiest person to work with sometimes! But it’s nice going into the second year feeling confident.”
It might seem like Martin is being critical, but it does not come across that way. Instead, he portrays a fiercely competitive athlete who is committed to doing all he can to fulfill the team's ambitions. It is the primary reason he chose to join UAE Team Emirates in the first place.
"[It was] the opportunity to be part of something," Martin says. "And the opportunity the team gave me to be a leader, to give me the support in races and everything I needed to be as good as I can possibly be."
After pitching in to the team meeting and sharing his thoughts with The National, Martin was back on his bike, stopping for a few selfies with fans waiting outside the team bus, before disappearing into the crowd.