MILAN (VN) — It has been quiet, but that is no reason to forget about Dan Martin ahead of Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège one-day race in Belgium. The Cannondale-Garmin leader’s run in the biggest Ardennes classic stands strong: fifth in 2012, a victory in 2013 and, had it not been for a crash in the final corner, perhaps another victory in 2014.
A crash in La Flèche Wallonne Wednesday should do little to derail a determined Martin as he races for another “dream win” in Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday.
“This is the race of my dreams,” Martin said after his 2013 win. “It’s one of the big ones, and one of the places where I can win.”
The race in southern Belgium travels from Liège’s main square south to Bastogne before making a U-turn. On the run north, it usually gets serious with côte after côte before reaching Ans after 253 kilometers. The main climbs include La Redoute, La Roche-aux-Faucons, and Saint-Nicolas. They all run between 1km and 3km in length.
The England-born Irishman, 28, is suited to the course with his classification/climber build. His palmarès includes overall victories in the Tour of Poland and the Volta a Catalunya, and stages in both the Vuelta a España and Tour de France.
To win Sunday, he will have to beat such favorites as Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Polish world champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick-Step), and Spaniard Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha).
Martin has been working slowly toward the Ardennes classics. In fact, his program mimics that of 2013 when he won Liège-Bastogne-Liège and a stage in the Tour de France. This year, instead of building for the Giro d’Italia with Liège-Bastogne-Liège serving as a warm-up event, he is targeting the one-day races before a break and building for the Tour de France.
He has been building in Mallorca, Tirreno-Adriatico, and the Volta a Catalunya. In Spain’s Catalunya stage race, he showed he is on track with a 10th overall behind winner Richie Porte (Sky).
Martin placed 15th in the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday. It was not a win, but he had gone deep in Catalunya and had come off a week of training for the short and steep climbs.
In Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne, Martin fell after touching wheels with another rider with 90km remaining. He rejoined the main peloton but eventually decided to pull the plug early.
The crash left Martin a bit banged up, leaving the team uncertain about his Liège prospects with three days to go until Sunday’s race. “Medical staff continues to closely monitor Dan following his crash at Flèche Wallone. Today his known injuries include contusions, abrasions, and soreness in his neck. His health is our top priority and we will see how he progresses but remain hopeful that he will be able to start Liège-Bastogne-Liège,” the team told VeloNews.
If Martin recovers from his fall and is able to race Sunday, the signs are pointing to another top result on the finishing climb to Ans just outside of Liège.
In Catalunya, he was going better than he did last year and because of a break coming up, he can give everything to Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
In 2014, Martin was in position to repeat his 2013 victory when disaster struck. He created a small gap with Rodríguez, but slipped in the final left-hand corner to the finishing straight at 200 meters to race. Two weeks later, he fell with his Garmin teammates during the team time trial that opened the Giro d’Italia in Belfast and abandoned.
Martin turned his season around with a seventh overall in the Vuelta a España and a win in another monument, the Giro di Lombardia.
“I knew that my luck would change. I always remain positive,” Martin said after Lombardia. “[Lombardia and Liège] are my two favorite races. I love them.”
The Irishman will draw on that same optimism and miles spent preparing to try to turn his spring into a winning one Sunday.