Dan Martin: ‘The more people we get on bikes, the safer the roads will become’

L’Étape de Tour to ‘bring a bit of the Tour de France’ to Killarney in September

Dan Martin is listing off the reasons why he does not miss riding his bike for a living, given the chore and unsustainable commitment it had become, when he is asked about road safety.

Even before he retired at the end of the 2021 season, then aged 35, Martin had been vocal about the increasing risks involved, in part given the enhanced speeds of the professional peloton, and some of the chaotic stages than ensued.

In the 2021 Giro d’Italia, one of his 19 Grand Tours in all, Martin lost over six minutes to the race leaders on Stage 11, which included four dusty gravel trails that criss-crossed the Tuscan wine country.

“I told my wife this morning that I won’t crash,” he said afterwards, “for me personally cycling is not worth the risk.”

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These days Martin rides his bike for purely pleasure purposes, as he always will, yet still sees some of these same risks, even when well away from the closed roads of the Grand Tours.

“There are so many reasons why I retired, but that was certainly one,” he says. “Even when we’re fortunate to live in Andorra, or Girona, there are so many vehicles on the road now. Going out on the bike every day, you do have near misses constantly in cycling, and that is scary.”

There was another tragic reminder of that on the Dublin roads last Sunday, when married father of three John Walsh, a racing cyclist and member of UCD Cycling Club, died from injuries he sustained in a road traffic crash with a driver on the Malahide Road. Walsh was the second cyclist from UCD Cycling Club to lose his life on the roads in less than a year, Gabriele Glodenyte also killed last May in a crash with a car driver while she was on a training ride near Garristown, north Co Dublin.

“I think everyone seems to be in such a rush now, to get anywhere, rushing to get to work, wherever,” says Martin.

“It’s a difficult one, it comes from both sides as well, because cycling safety comes from the cyclist and the motorist. As far as being respectful of where you ride on the road. But also with the vehicle, the cars, there does seem to be a misunderstanding that a cyclist is a human being as well.”

Martin is speaking at the launch of the popular L’Étape de Tour cycling sportive series coming to Ireland for the first time, the new event set to start and finish in Killarney on Saturday, September 7th, and has already been out on his bike up the Dublin Mountains earlier on Wednesday morning.

“The event in September is going to be on closed roads, that’s going to be a fantastic experience, probably the first time most people have ridden on closed roads.

“Obviously you can’t do that all the time, but I do believe the more people we get on bikes, the safer the roads will become. Because if everyone motorist knows a cyclist, or knows somebody who rides a bike, they’re inevitably going to become more careful around cyclists. That’s why it’s about pushing the sport out there as far as we can, and get the understanding this is a son or daughter on a bike, not something in your way.”

In his 2023 autobiography Chased by Pandas, My Life in the Mysterious World of Cycling, Martin subtitled each of 25 chapters is subtitled with one of his many fears during his cycling career; The Fear of Not Getting Up; The Fear of Going Too Fast; The Fear of Descending; The Fear of Destroying Your Body; The Fear of Becoming Obsessed; The Fear of Stopping; The Fear of Doping.

Ultimately however he retired in 2021 because he’d lost too much love for cycling at the elite level, at the sacrifices away from his wife Jess and their twin daughters.

“The reason I stopped when I did was because I felt that love of cycling was starting to split. It was becoming a chore and I never wanted that.

“Obviously the natural competitor in me sits and home and thinks ‘ah, I’d be in the front now’, and you always have that question, how good are they now, would I still be up there, how could I be, especially when you see peers that I was still beating, are doing well.

“But at the same time, the cost to myself, and my life, was becoming unsustainable. It just came to the point I felt like I was missing out on other things in my life, my kids growing up, the life of pro cyclist, at the top level.

“I could have continued, maybe got results here and there, but that wasn’t in my personality, I was either going to be all in, or out. The last year of my career, and the one just before I retired, was probably one of the most successful of my career, fourth in the Vuelta, but to get to that level, mentally, it was so difficult.

“To make those sacrifices day after day. To the point I was never actually leaving home unless it was on a bike. But there’s no regrets, it’s not better or worse, it’s just different, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to get some decent results in my career.”

For more on the L’Étape Ireland, which will feature a 135km and 100km option around Killarney, plus a 5km family ride see https://ireland.letapebytourdefrance.com/.

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