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Martin welcomes change after stalling with Cannondale

GREEN MOUNTAIN, Oman (VN) — Dan Martin welcomed the fresh air when the Tour of Oman visited Green Mountain on Friday afternoon, much like what he found in his new Etixx – Quick-Step team. He says that he felt stalled after eight years with his former team, Cannondale – Garmin.

The Irishman, born in England, placed 27th, 3:24 behind Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali on the climb through Oman’s rugged, arid countryside. He had not expected a win, since he is on antibiotics to recover from a chest cold. But still, the off-season transfer to Belgian team Etixx has the former winner of monuments Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia smiling.

“I was happy where I was, and I was progressing, but I thought that over the last couple of years I was not making those big steps anymore,” Martin told VeloNews. “I just kind of stalled a little bit, that’s why it may have been time to find new pastures.”

Martin celebrated often with Jonathan Vaughters’s Slipstream team, winning the 2013 Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia a year later. He took overall victory in the Volta a Catalunya, and stages in the Tour de France and Vuelta a España. In 2014, he rode as high as seventh overall in the Vuelta, just before going on to win Lombardia.

Other times, it did not go his way. He crashed in the winning moment of the 2014 Liège-Bastogne-Liège and fell in the opening team time trial of the Giro d’Italia. Last year, he crashed midway into the Vuelta a España and abandoned.

“It was my family for eight years,” said Martin about Slipstream. “I maybe became too familiar in my environment. That’s also a really nice thing, when you go to the races and you know all the systems and everyone so well. You feel comfortable, but maybe that’s not the best thing for performances.”

Etixx team boss Patrick Lefevere offered the 29-year-old a two-year contract, and 2016 began with a bang, when Martin accelerated away from rivals Wout Poels (Sky) and Fabio Aru (Astana) to win the Fredes uphill finish in the Volta a Valenciana.

His win contributed to the team’s haul of 10 victories from six different riders so far in 2016. Three of those, Martin, Bob Jungels, and Marcel Kittel, are new to Etixx. Something is working.

“I noticed in 2013 that once you get on that first win, which seems to be the hardest one to get, you seem to relax a bit more,” Martin added. “I haven’t won since the 2014 Tour of Beijing. I’m not prolific by any means, but hopefully that might change in this team.”

Martin will aim for the Ardennes Classics — Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège — as well as the Tour de France this year. In the Ardennes, he will form three-pronged attack with Jungels and last year’s surprise, Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe. His job will be to win but also to take the pressure off Alaphilippe. At the Tour, he will race for the general classification.

“I have the support of one of the strongest teams,” he said. “Like in Tirreno-Adriatico next month, Etixx won the team time trial the last three seasons [the team won in 2014 and 2013; there was no TTT in 2015 -Ed.], and that stage is so important. Having that confidence going into a race like Tirreno, and not playing catch-up, will be important.”