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Retired ace Dan Martin: ‘Racing is quite boring to watch now’

Former monument and grand tour stage winner laments loss of soul in an increasingly buttoned-down pro peloton.

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Recently retired Irish ace Dan Martin is looking back at a modern-day peloton that is very different from the one he joined in 2007.

Martin, who won Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Il Lombardia, and five grand tour stages, told The Guardian the increasingly buttoned-down, no-stone-unturned machine of modern cycling lost its soul.

“It’s the freedom of expression as well. That freedom to attack. Racing is quite boring to watch now as nobody makes mistakes anymore,” Martin told The Guardian.

“Everything is so fine-tuned you don’t see guys having bad days. Everybody is nutritionally perfect, training is perfect, and it’s lacking that human element. Racing has become quite prescriptive.”

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Martin became known for aggressive, firecracker racing during his 14 years with the Garmin, Quick-Step, UAE Emirates, and Israel-Premier Tech teams.

The Irishman stepped away from an offer from Team Sky in 2018 for fear of being sucked into a system that thrived on watts of power, grams of food, and hours of sleep.

He instead raced two years with both UAE Emirates and Israel-Premier Tech before he retired, ruing  “though I am still competitive, I’ve realized that racing has lost the fun element.”

“That’s why I stopped riding this time last year – because the sport was becoming so controlled,” Martin told The Guardian this week.

“I’d lost my advantage because every cyclist now is told exactly what they’re doing and each team’s methodology is the same. I want to be able to decide why, when and what training I do and what tactics I use. If I had gone into that [Sky] team, I wouldn’t have enjoyed myself.”

Praise and fears for Pogačar

Martin fears for the longevity of the increasingly youthful peloton.

One thing Martin definitely does like about the modern pro peloton?

His former teammate Tadej Pogačar.

“Even though people say it’s the best racing ever, it’s really down to Pogačar. He is the loose cannon who attacks whenever he feels like it, whereas the rest of the racing is so scripted and controlled,” Martin said.

“Pogačar comes back to the idea of romantic cycling. I still talk to him quite often and he seems to enjoy racing his bike and that’s why he does almost every race on the calendar.”

Martin rode with Pogačar on UAE Emirates in 2019, the year when the Slovenian booted the door down at the Vuelta a España with third overall and three stage wins.

UAE Emirates since developed itself into the steamroller of pro cycling. Pogačar is flanked by João Almeida, Brandon McNulty, Juan Ayuso and new signing Adam Yates when he boards the team’s hulking white bus.

“His team is preparing for the future even though Pogačar is only 24. So the question of longevity is already there for him,” Martin warned.

“When I was riding, a team would have taken Pogačar and said: ‘Right, he’s our guy for the next 10 years.’ Now you have these incarnations, these super-teams, with the resources to have five young riders behind him, ready to replace him as soon as he dips. I’ve heard stories of 16-year-olds doing 30 hours training a week. They’re already training like hardened pros.”

Martin additionally pointed out riders like Tom Dumoulin and Fabio Aru, both who retired at a relatively young age, burned out and used up.

Top racers like Mathieu van der Poel and Pogačar himself also recently suggested they can’t foresee themselves sustaining the monkish modern pro idyll for more than a decade.

“My sympathy lies with the guys who have to make more sacrifices than I ever did just to be in the peloton. Just to be on the start line in the Tour you have to do altitude training camps, honed nutrition, you need to be super, super, skinny. You have to be doing what Team Sky did,” Martin said.

“But I got top-10 in the Tour de France, training out of my front door every day. Today that’s not possible.”