With climbing chops, lethal sprint, Martin poised for Ardennes breakout

Irishman has been knocking on the door in the hilly classics and is ready to walk through to victory

MAASTRICHT, Netherlands (VN) — Daniel Martin is poised for an Ardennes break out this week.

The 26-year-old Irishman roars into the hilly Belgian classics in the best form of his life. Backed by a strong Garmin-Sharp squad, Martin enters Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège as a front-line favorite.

“I think winning one, I’m getting closer,” Martin told VeloNews. “I did really well here last year and I feel even stronger than last year. I am coming here ready to ride to win.”

Martin has all the tools to win one of the Ardennes races. He has the climbing chops to stay with the big moves, but packs a fast finish-line sprint to win out of small groups.

Garmin sport director Johnny Weltz said it’s only a matter of time before Martin wins one of the Ardennes races.

“He’s becoming better every year and now he has the experience and confidence. If not this year, then very soon he can win here,” Weltz said. “These races are perfect for him.”

The Irishman already has some impressive one-day racing results on his palmares, including victory in the Japan Cup and Tre Valli Varese in 2010 and second in the 2011 Giro di Lombardia, the final of the season’s five monuments.

Last year, he was rock solid through the Ardennes, animating the final selection and finishing fifth at Liège after riding to sixth at Flèche.

“You have to race these races a few times to understand them,” Weltz said. “He has that experience now. He’s very fast in a small group. And he’s strong now.”

Last month, Martin won a stage and the overall at the Volta a Catalunya, the most important stage race victory of his career.

On Sunday, he brushed off a crash in the Amstel Gold Race that knocked him out of contention, but he’s expected to be ready and firing for Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday and Liège on Sunday.

In addition to Martin, Garmin brings Giro d’Italia champion Ryder Hesjedal, who was on the attack late Sunday at the Amstel Gold Race, Fabian Wegmann, and Peter Stetina.

“We’re one of the best teams of the world and we’re coming here to try to win one,” Martin said. “On paper, we have one of the deepest teams in the races. Hopefully we can play a numbers game.”