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Three weeks after suffering the first fracture of his career, Dan Martin has clocked up several outdoor spins and is working towards a racing return that could potentially see him ride the Tour de France.
The Irishman is tight-lipped about his chances of doing the race, saying that the Garmin-Sharp team will make its own announcement of the line-up, but being able to train pain-free gives him the opportunity to build form for the French event if he does indeed ride.
Martin identified the Giro d’Italia as his main season goal, deciding to focus on that event as the first three days started in Ireland. However he completed only fifteen minutes of the event before his wheel slipped on a wet manhole cover, sending him and his bike clattering to the ground. While the other Garmin-Sharp riders who fell were able to remount and ride to the finish, he was unable to go any further due to a badly fractured collarbone.
That injury was operated on two days later in Dublin and now, three weeks later, he’s clocking up training miles again. He’s now ready to talk about his fall, the outcome, the operation and his recovery, having chosen before this point not to comment to the press about what was a big disappointment for him.
“I am doing okay,” Martin told CyclingTips. “Obviously it was a bit rough for the week or so after the operation. There was the initial buzz of having the operation done and then having quite decent mobility back, then the progress slows down. It was a gradual rehabilitation, getting the muscles moving. All that stuff. It is something I have never experienced before, it is the first time I have broken a bone.”
While he suffered a concussion in last year’s Vuelta a España and also had to withdraw from that race, he considers the fracture to be something else again. “It is the first time I have really been injured from a crash,” he said. “I mean, I had an injury before but I have been very, very fortunate my whole career as far as injuries go.
“This is a new experience. We had the physio and doctors looking after me. It has been fantastic, I think I have made really good progress and I have been back on the bike this week, just riding a bit. I feel pretty good.”
Martin was initially told that he could resume working on the home trainer the day after his operation. However he said that he decided not to do so, admitting he was not geared up to knuckle down again so soon. “It is hard enough to motivate yourself to use the trainer normally, and I wasn’t going to just jump back on it,” he said. “I think a lot of guys rush back from these injuries and pay for it later.
“For the sake of a few hours’ training, I definitely took my time and made sure that the bone was healed 100 percent. It was a pretty bad break in the end…it was a clean break, but I still have a lot of metalwork going on inside me. I wanted to be sure that I get the arm moving properly again.
“It was more important for me to spend more time doing the rehab exercises rather than riding the home trainer.”
That patience appears to have paid off; he said that he can train on the road without any pain in that shoulder, although he notes that the muscles are still a little stiff. He feels that is down to a lack of use in recent weeks and that it will settle down as he continues to ride. “We will get there, we will get back on track,” he said.
That will be reassuring for his fans, who would have been worried about his programme this year after his fall in Belfast. From the sound of things, Martin’s recovery is going well, and he’s also in a good place mentally.
Switching off for a while was key to that.
“I just didn’t want to talk about it ten times a day”
In the days following his accident, Martin said that he shut himself away. He said it wasn’t due to despondency about what happened, but rather a desire not to dwell on things. To move on from the moment of the crash rather than being repeatedly dragged back.
“To be honest, I didn’t really move out of the apartment for the first week. I was pretty useless,” he said. “I also hadn’t spent any time at home in Girona, so it was good to finally do that. I had literally spent a week at home in three months as I was preparing for the Giro. My girlfriend came over a last week. I had a few days here. It was nice to just clear my head that way and relax. To be almost normal for a week, although walking around with your hand in a sling is not exactly normal.
“It has been really nice just to chill out and to really escape from cycling for ten days. I didn’t look at my phone much, I just really turned my brain off.
“Doing so wasn’t down to disappointment with the result, with what happened. It was more a case that I just didn’t want to talk about it, to be honest. There are so many people around here, people I ride with and friends and stuff, and if I met them I’d end up answering the same question a million times.
“I was on painkillers and after the operation, I didn’t want to talk about it ten times a day. I just didn’t want to think about it.”
Martin’s new relationship has been a good distraction for him. While altitude training at Sierra Nevada prior to the Giro, he met a British athlete called Jess. They clicked and she has been spending time with him in Girona. He’s been able to get to know her more and also to show her around what is his hometown.
He sounds happy, is enjoying life and doesn’t appear at all despondent now about how his Giro turned out. He said he would have loved to have been there, to have helped Ryder Hesjedal in the third week, but that there is no point in mulling over things.
“It is what it is. It happened and you can’t change it,” he reasoned. “There is no point in being disappointed, it happened. There is no changing it. The worst thing for me was the fact that the pain that I caused my team-mates. Obviously I was the first one to crash. They crashed over me and they were pretty knocked around.
“I don’t think it was my fault, but I still have that guilt at the end. Especially with the overall Giro…it was the worst start possible a team could have. And not only the time lost, but losing two riders and beating up another two riders. That was more the thing that disappointed me most. I don’t think I could have changed it or made it different, but it still hurts.”
Given that the crash was so dramatic and so unexpected, there was always the risk that it would have affected his confidence. That’s also compounded by the fact that it was his first time to break a bone and because the fall came so soon after he crashed in the finale of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Much of an athlete’s motivation and focus is founded on self-belief, and anything that rocks this can compound the after-effects of a bad injury.
Fortunately he said he’s been able to put the fall behind him. “It was just such a freak accident,” he said, insisting that it won’t make him more cautious and hesitant in the future. “That was the problem – the last two times I raced I have crashed. If you kind of land in a big pile of guys and hurt yourself or if you made a mistake… You’d hold your hand up and say, ‘okay, fair enough.’
“But literally both times I crashed I have had pretty much no idea what has happened. I just hit the floor like I have fallen out of a tree. It has been a lot of shock more than anything.
“Obviously I know what happened in both cases, but I couldn’t have done anything about it. I don’t feel that I could have avoided either crash. It is just pure bad luck. Hopefully that bad karma is over and we’ll get payback eventually in the end.”
Connecting with the fans at Cycle4life:
Martin’s first event back will take place next Saturday, but isn’t actually a race. Instead, he will ride with hundreds of fans in County Dublin, lining out alongside them as part of the Cycle4life charity ride.
The annual event offers participants the chance to cycle with Martin across a range of distances; there is a 105 kilometre event for the more advanced riders, a medium 55 kilometre distance and then short 3km ride for children, beginners and anyone else who wishes to do that one. Through staggered starts Martin will spend time with each group, and the proceeds will be used to raise funds for the Temple Street Children’s hospital.
Thus far over €350,000 has been raised since the first edition was held in 2012 and Martin plus the organisers are hoping to increase what is generated this year. The funds will be used to buy new medical equipment for the hospital, and thus improve the care it can offer.
Martin said he is looking forward to the trip back, and to having a happier experience than the last time he was on Irish roads. “Funnily enough, I think I am staying about 500 metres from where I had the surgery. So it is definitely coming straight back in to where it all happened,” he said. “But it is going to be great…the welcome in Belfast was incredible. Obviously we are always keen to come back and ride and it is something that is very close to my heart.
“It is part of cycling that I love doing. It was a fantastic event last year and I am sure it is going to be the same this time,” he said. “Hopefully the weather will be a bit better and I will be a bit more confortable standing around, hanging around in the start and finish area.
“I think it will definitely be a fun day, there is no doubt about that. And I hope we can make a lot of money for the hospital.”
Martin said that he has been moved by the amount of support people have shown him since his fall and sees the time he will spend with the fans as a way of thanking them.
“I think a lot of people were quite upset by what I did to myself, and that really touches me,” he said. “So it is nice to be able to come back. Especially to spend time with the kids…the kids and the toddlers’ rides were one of my highlights of the year last year. It was incredible to just see all those little people on bikes.
“It really is a special day, and we get to support a special cause at the same time. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Beyond that, he isn’t saying much about his plans. “I am just coming back. I feel good but I’d need to be 100 percent for the Tour. So we’ll see. The team is weighing everything up, and it is always very secretive about the programme. They will say more when they are ready.”
So too will Martin. He went through a rough time last month but sounds like he has come out the other side. As he’s shown repeatedly in the past, such as when he crashed just before what could have been a second consecutive Liège-Bastogne-Liège title, he’s kept things in perspective.
As he often says, it’s only a sport. It’s high tech, high costs and high stakes, but only a sport.
That said, he’s itching to get back to it soon and to start racing again.
Fans who wish to ride Cycle4life on Saturday can register for the event here