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Dan Martin retired from professional racing at the end of 2021 wrapping up a 14-year career.
Throughout his successful career, Martin enjoyed a wealth of big victories. He won two monuments at Il Lombardia and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, he won stages of all three grand tours, as well as finishing in the top 10 of each.
He spent most of his career with Jonathan Vaughters’ Garmin team, before riding with Quick-Step, UAE Team Emirates, and Israel Start-Up Nation in the latter years of it. However, it could have been very different as Martin entered brief discussions with team boss Dave Brailsford about a potential move to Team Sky before he signed for Quick-Step in 2016 and again in 2018 before going to UAE.
In this extract from his new autobiography Chased by Pandas, Martin talks about his talks with Brailsford and why it didn’t work out.
Chased by Pandas is available to buy online.
I had to share top billing with a climber from Sardinia, Fabio Aru, winner of the 2015 Vuelta and twice a podium finisher at the Giro. He was four years younger than me. Fabio seemed like a nice guy, even though we didn’t talk much to each other and our paths rarely crossed. I’d been surprised to learn in the press that he was joining the team because Mauro Gianetti had assured me that I would be the sole leader. But Beppe Saronni had insisted on recruiting this Italian talent. The team’s management had explained the division of tasks to me, saying, ‘Fabio will do the Giro and the Vuelta, you’ll do the Tour and the Vuelta.’ I didn’t mind sharing responsibilities. At Quick-Step, I’d teamed up with Julian Alaphilippe and Philippe Gilbert, who had the same objectives as me in the Ardennes Classics.
Two leaders wouldn’t be too many when it came to dealing with internal and external pressure . . . Our Norwegian sprinter Alexander Kristoff would also be carrying some of the team’s weight. Diego Ulissi, a former two-time junior world champion, would be another of the squad’s key men. On paper, we had a strong and experienced team. I could imagine myself having a July as tranquil, solid, and impressive as the villa over the road from our service course.
A few weeks earlier, though, I’d considered going in a very different direction by signing for Team Sky. Dave Brailsford wanted me to be his Plan B, or even Plan C, an alternative for the Tour de France to Chris Froome, who was supposed to race in the Giro first – which he did, winning the maglia rosa. I could also be their leader in Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie, the Critérium du Dauphiné – events that Froomey loved but which he wasn’t supposed to race – as well as being their leader in the Ardennes Classics, of course. The idea of leading Team Sky was like being offered the chance to drive a sports car. It was a very attractive proposition. I would also be responsible for mentoring the young riders who had just been recruited: Colombia’s Egan Bernal, the Franco-Russian Pavel Sivakov, and my compatriot Eddie Dunbar.
Dave’s long-term plans were incredibly precise. The former British Cycling performance director had come a long way over the previous decade. And so had I, to tell the truth. It amused me that our paths had crossed again. During our discussions, we never mentioned the past, but we both remembered that our relationship had been complex, beset by missed opportunities. After the disheartening meeting we’d had following the World Junior Championships in Verona in 2004, I’d gone to try my luck in Marseille. The British federation had called me up sometimes for the national team during the 2005 season, but not for the Worlds in Madrid. I never had any explanation for this non-selection, but I felt that Dave didn’t see me as anything more than a stopgap. At the same time, Irish Cycling was keen for me to join them. So I started the process of changing my nationality with the UCI and in September 2006 I rode my first U23 World Championship in the emerald-green jersey.
Mark Cavendish, leader of the British team and the race favourite, finished 11th on the Salzburg circuit in Austria. He needed another teammate in the final. It could have been me, if only . . . At the finish, I caught Dave Brailsford’s eye. Not a word passed between us. From then on, each of us followed our own path on the bike.
Then I witnessed the birth of the Sky empire. The creation of the team in 2010. Chris Froome’s first sensational Vuelta in 2011 – the year I won my stage. The first Tour victory in 2012 with Bradley Wiggins, who had gained a new dimension since he’d been my teammate at Garmin. Amidst these episodes, my name kept coming up in the press as a possible recruit. A British magazine even put forward the – totally inconceivable – hypothesis that I could sign for this British team for 2010, provided I reverted to my original nationality! Six years later I’d received a slightly more formal transfer offer.
Dave texted me to say that he was ‘interested’ and wanted to ‘talk to me’, but the conversations didn’t go very far and I signed for Quick-Step.
Team Sky had been more aggressive in their approach on this occasion as they looked ahead to 2018. Clearly, they were looking for a rider to fill the gap between Chris Froome and the next leader who would emerge. I told Dave about my other option with Team UAE Emirates. He wanted me to turn down this rival offer without us making any progress with the discussions on his side. One day he called to reassure me: ‘I’m waiting to hear if one of our riders stays or goes. If he leaves, we’ll take you for sure.’
I was led to believe afterwards that he was talking about the Basque climber Mikel Landa. So I made the decision to target the 2018 Tour de France podium without Team Sky – in fact, against Team Sky.
Chased by Pandas is available to buy online.