Cycling: Home talents hope to steal the show in Tour of Britain

As they set off in Rochdale today, cyclists will hope for an easier ride than in the mountains of Europe
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You know a sport is tough when it makes you forget who you are. They don't come much tougher than cycling, and the Grand Tours – France, Spain and Italy – are the most testing of all. The Tour of Britain, which begins today, is not in that league – which must come as something of a relief to Dan Martin, who will ride in the tour and who is one of the sport's most promising riders. He completed his first Giro D'Italia this year. It is an experience he is unlikely to forget quickly.

"After the race, I was in a pretty bad way," he says. "The middle week of the race, we were cycling for 42 hours – 1000 miles in one week, over mountains, through the rain, in the middle of a three-week tour. It's epic.

"It took me three weeks afterwards just to start feeling normal again. I wasn't myself, psychologically, my character was different, I was over-tired. Towards the end of the race I couldn't even sleep properly any more. The doctor gave me sleeping pills but they weren't working because I was so tired. It was the first time I felt how extreme this sport is."

Martin is in Rochdale today for the start of the British tour. As a race, it is nothing like as testing as the Giro (there are only eight stages, culminating in eight laps around London's Docklands a week today), which perhaps explains why he is so keen to get cracking.

Another reason for his enthusiasm for the race is that, although he rides for Ireland (his mother is the elder sister of 1987 Tour de France winner Stephen Roche), he was born and bred in Birmingham. "It's always nice to race on roads where I grew up," he says. "The organisers this year have tried to make it a bit harder because last year there were a lot of sprint days.

"There are so many people who can win this race. It will be partly luck. If you get into a break, and you're the strongest, you can win the whole race just like that."

The 24-year-old is noted for his climbing ability but having won the Tour of Poland and the prestigious one-day Tre Valli Varesine this year and having finished fourth in Britain in 2008, he is still among the favourites. Martin suggests, however, that he might help one of his five Garmin-Transitions team-mates to win. "The boys have put a lot of work into me this year with the successes I've had so it might be a case of me paying them back."

His success hasn't come out of nowhere. Martin's season began in February and will end in the dying days of October. His lifestyle requires huge discipline. "After the last race of the season I have five to six weeks off," he says. "You have to just let your body recover, let the efforts of the season soak in." His professionalism is matched by Garmin, who have created their own energy drink for the riders. "We don't believe that the ones on the mass market fit our requirements as professional athletes," Martin says.

Martin, whose father Neil was also a cyclist ("I think there's a photo somewhere of me at my first bike race when I was about two weeks old") is clearly intent on big things. Will next year see his first crack at the big one, the Tour de France?

"It will be difficult to get in the Garmin team," he says. "Hopefully we can talk about it over the winter and I'll aim for that Tour de France spot next year."

* Mark Cavendish won a mass sprint finish for his second successive Spanish Vuelta stage victory yesterday, as Igor Anton of Spain kept the overall leader's red jersey. Cavendish won the 196-kilometre (121.8 miles) 13th leg of the Spanish classic in 4 hours, 50 minutes, 18 seconds. Thor Hushovd of Norway and Italian rival Daniele Bennati came next in the same time. Euskaltel Euskadi cyclist Anton maintained his 45-second overall advantage over Vincenzo Nibali of Italy.

Dan Martin was speaking on behalf of Transitions® Optical who are sponsoring the Transitions-Garmin team, equipping them with adaptive lenses. For more information visit