Stephen Roche, the only Irishman to have won the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and rainbow jersey of world road champion, says that his nephew Dan Martin only decided to represent Ireland “because it suited him.” He also claims that brother-in-law Neil Martin – the Garmin-Sharp rider’s father – has “a chip on his shoulder” dating back more than 30 years to the early days of their careers.
Dan Martin’s mother, Maria, is Roche’s sister who met her husband through her brother after the pair became acquainted through racing against each other as teens. Neil Martin is a former British amateur road race champion, while the couple’s son, now aged 27, won the under-18 title in 2004.
He switched allegiance to Ireland in 2006, and became its national road champion two years later. His uncle believes that the opportunity to take part in races such as the world championships was a strong motivation in his decision, reports Independent.ie.
Roche, speaking at a question and answer session with fans and journalists in County Antrim this week ahead of the Giro d’Italia, which starts in Belfast on Friday 9 May, said: "No disrespect to Dan, he basically became Irish to get on the Irish team to go to the national races.
"Which is good. It goes to show you that without Ireland helping Dan, Dan wouldn't be where he is today. He wouldn't have got any exposure or any international races.
"But Dan was always British. Then he became Irish because it suited him."
Despite Roche saying that the change in allegiance was a positive thing for Martin, according to Independent.ie there’s every chance the remarks may be taken the wrong way – the younger man has regularly spoken of his pride at representing his mother’s country, and also visits family there regularly.
But he has said in the past that the decision to ride for Ireland resulted from his frustration at the focus of British Cycling on the track, not the road, for bringing through young riders, and that he has never received any encouragement as he sought to build his career.
Martin’s explosive climbing ability saw him finish the 2013 season in sixth place in the UCI world ranking following his best season to date, with victories including the overall in the Tour of Catalonia, the Ardennes classic Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and a stage of the 100th edition of the Tour de France.
Roche, who won the Giro, Tour and world championship in a stellar 1987 season, also said that he believed Neil Martin “had a chip on his shoulder” dating back to 1980.
The latter had spent the 1979 season with French amateur outfit Athletic Club de Boulogne-Billancourt, which acted as a feeder team to Peugeot, with a view to turning professional for the latter.
It never happened. In 1980, Martin lost his place at ACBB to a rider he had himself recommended – Roche, the brother of his future wife.
Roche would go onto a career that has made him one of Ireland’s most famous sportsmen, while Martin would continue to ride for several years but never secured that elusive professional contract.
In an interview with Paul Kimmage for Independent.ie last year, Neil Martin said of Roche: "We never really had much to do with him. I never really got to know him…”
“Even now we are not close. I don't get on with him, basically.”
He insisted there was no bitterness, but said he believed that Roche could have been of more help in trying to get a place on a professional team.
Dan Martin, meanwhile, told Kimmage - a former team mate of Roche, the pair falling out after the publication of the former's book, Rough Ride - that as he was growing up, he had received “not one word” of advice about cycling from his famous uncle, “not once, never.”
Coincidentally, his cousin, Nicolas Roche of Saxo-Tinkoff, is another rider who changed the country he represented – in his case, from France, his mother’s home country and where he was born, to Ireland.
While their parents may have little to do with one another, the cousins are close and will both be riding the Giro when it starts in Ireland next month.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.