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Though Martin spent two weeks in the podium slots at this year’s Vuelta, the Irishman’s fourth-place finish in Madrid marks a highpoint in his career and serves as an essential stepping-stone for his Israel Start-Up Nation squad.
“Fourth in GC, it’s the best result of my career in a grand tour,” he said. “I did my best every day. I rode an almost perfect race in my opinion and I wouldn’t change much at all, just there were three guys better. That’s why it’s such a good feeling – I did my best and fourth was the best we could have got out of this race.”
Martin rode high in the Vuelta’s top-three from the opening stage all the way through to the Angliru summit, scooping his first grand tour stage win since 2018 on the way. However, Hugh Carthy came along to spoil the party on the race’s second weekend, first ousting the Irishman from his podium slot with a stage victory on the Angliru that kicked Martin into fourth overall, and then expanding his advantage from three to 55 seconds in the Èzaro time trial.
Nonetheless, the 34-year-old’s searing start to the race had given him enough of a buffer on Enric Mas to withstand the Spaniard’s late charge on the climb to Covatilla, leaving him to ride into Madrid to deliver his team’s best grand tour result to date.
“Israel Start-Up Nation signed me last year with the belief that I was capable of results like this and it’s amazing for me to pay back that belief,” Martin said. “They gave me a team built around me and the guys did all they could for me for three weeks.”
With a stage win in his pocket and a top GC performance, Martin reconfirmed his talent to both his bosses and the world at large on the eve of major changes for the team that could have put Martin’s position at the forefront of Israel Start-Up Nation at threat.
2021 will see Israel Start-Up Nation welcome a whole host of new talent, spearheaded by grand tour supremo Chris Froome, with a supporting cast that includes the likes of Michael Woods, Daryl Impey, and Carl Fredrik Hagen. Team boss Sylvan Adams hasn’t been shy in his ambitions to recalibrate the squad around Froome and target grand tour victory in the years to come, leaving Martin to take a half-step to one side.
Rather than feeling threatened by Froome’s arrival, Martin relishes the opportunity and sees the two as “complementing” one another rather than fighting each other for captaincy. With a mojo-boosting ride in Spain under his belt and a result that tops the team’s trophy cabinet, Martin can only see things trending upward for Israel Start-Up Nation from here on.
“I’m sure Chris has got a lot to teach me, especially about grand tour racing – he’s the greatest grand tour rider of our generation,” Martin said. “I’m really looking forward to having him around, and that relationship has already started the last few months, when we’ve been talking about the team and how we’re going to improve things.”