Lockdown Q&A with Neil Martin

Neil Martin (Dan’s dad) is a former British RR Champion and winner of the Lincoln GP as well multiple stages in the Milk Race (Tour of Britain). Nowadays, Neil is manager of the Under 23 Irish National Road team and based in Girona on Lockdown! We chat …

Lockdown Q&A with Neil Martin

During my days as a young rider, I would often read about Neil Martin who’s deeds on the bike were quite spectacular.  British amateur road race champion and winner of the Lincoln GP, Neil also won a stage of the Rás Tailteann (1980) and was also top 10 in the Milk Race (Tour of Britain).

Victory in the well known stage race, Flèche du Sud and multiple stages in the Milk Race  (Tour of Britain) as well is proof of Neil’s great career. He also married into the ‘Roche’ Irish clan after marrying Maria and they have been together 41 years. So no surprise that Neil and Maria’s son Dan has gone onto even better things during his racing career.

Milk Race 1984 Devil’s Staircase in Wales. Photo – John Pierce

Nowadays, Neil is manager of the Under 23 Irish National Road team under the auspices of the High Performance Unit of Cycling Ireland and he and Maria are based in Girona where lockdown is far more severe than it is in Britain. Neil was born in the same year I was, 1960 and so celebrated a fairly significant ’roundy’ birthday last week with just Maria for company instead of all the normal family and friends who would celebrate such a significant milestone.

Here is the Q&A with Neil and many thanks to him for this … a truly star studded family!

Q: When was your last race Neil?
Neil: My last race as DS was the World Championships in Harrogate last year. My last competitive bike race, according to my diligently kept race record book, was Sunday October 6th 2002, a Peter Fryer Vets Series round in Horwich… pretty sure you rode it too Larry! I dnf’d and in the ‘remarks’ column of my book it says “I’ve had enough!”

Q: Where are you based now?
Neil: I am based in Girona where I would ordinarily pedal most days. It’s now day 28 of a fierce but wholly necessary lockdown so a blast of an hour max on an ancient LeMond turbo per day has to suffice. I do a body-weight circuit training regime every other day too.

Q: What on the turbo is your favourite distraction?
Neil: I have no access to Zwift technology… but as I’m a bit of a Luddite I probably wouldn’t know how to use it anyway. Spanish sports channel Teledeporte are showing the finales of old bike races every day so I time my turbo ‘ride’ to coincide with that. Quite interesting watching races from the ’90’s and early 2000’s knowing what we now know…..80 kilo blokes winning mountain stages etc…!

I’ve done 1hr 20m on the turbo which was horrific. You have to bear in mind we’ve lived in Spain for the thick end of 10 years now so have probably ridden on a turbo twice in that time pre this lockdown. Passionate hate would describe it…

Neil on Alpe d’Huez in 2001 with a 13 year old Dan

Q: What’s the lockdown in Spain?
Neil: The lockdown in Spain is law… nothing short of house arrest. If you’re caught outside for any reason other than absolute necessity you can be arrested. I’ve been a serious cyclist for 50 years now but for the moment, someone has passed a law that says I can’t be…

We’re very ‘outdoorsy’ people. We live five minutes walk from Les Gavarres mountain trails and my wife Maria ordinarily would hike 50 to 60kms a week in the mountains… solo or with friends… so she’s feeling it as much as me. Add in that she has to deal with me not disappearing for 4hrs a day on the bike… tough times!

Q: Besides cycling, what’s your biggest distraction as lock down continues?
Neil: We’ve done a few jobs around the rental apartments that needed doing. Now we need to get round to doing the jobs that we don’t really want to do! We live on the top floor of the block of apartments so we can still access them all for redecorating etc. We also have a beautiful rooftop terrace so we’re very fortunate as far as being able to get some fresh air and sun. We really feel for the people who are trapped inside with no outdoor space.

Q: What’s the bike that gets the most use by you?
Neil: My bike is an ex AnPost-Chainreaction team bike circa 2017. I was a DS there for two years… it’s a Vitus Evo with Dura Ace mechanical. It’s not the most technical bike in the world but I love it… the geometry provides perfect handling and that’s pretty important where we live as mountains up equal some super descents too.

Q: What’s the weirdest thing you have seen since this crisis began?
Neil: People driving solo with a mask on. Also, Girona has always been a very social environment. Now people cross to the other side of the road in order to not encounter anyone else.

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Q: What will the escape be when lockdown is over?
Neil: I already have my first ride planned. It will be up to a village called Sant Hilari Sa Calm…50kms from Girona involving a beautiful 26km climb. We’ll also reconvene the Barely Athletic Cycling Club and I’ll then ride again with a few mates. We’ve temporarily renamed the club …it involves a swear word coupled with ‘….All Cycling Club’!

Q: If there is one race, you would like to see held this year should racing return, what race would that be?
Neil: I’d like to see the kids be able to race again this year as well as the Pros. For some last year Juniors and Espoirs Under 23’s it’s a potentially a career defining year and they’re being denied the chance. There’s talk of extending the categories by an extra year…I’d be in favour of that big time. There’s already a lot of pressure on the Under 23’s to perform within the allotted years. Some feel that if they’re not World Tour by the time they’re 20, they’ve failed. It’s a worrying trend developing….

Ras Tailteann Ireland 1980

Q: Finally, have you ever had to go through anything like this when injured?
Neil: The longest period of time off the bike…off the roads…prior to this was six weeks in 1986 when I fractured my pelvis in a crit crash in Derby. Again, it was career changing for me to miss so much of a season injured so I really feel for today’s bike racers.
Hopefully we can soon get back to watching some bike racing again and all move on however my thoughts and best wishes go out to those people who have been affected by this dreadful virus. It’s a very small price for us to pay to have to stay at home for a bit in light of what’s happening elsewhere in the world.

My thanks to Neil for that. Very humbling to have such a feature from a rider I followed during my early riding days … Good luck in Girona and all the best to Maria, Dan and the rest of the family!

Top of a wet Luz Ardiden in 2019

Milk Race stage Burntwood crit 1983, Tony Doyle 2nd



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