On Saturday the young Garmin rider Dan Martin – son of ex British pro Neil Martin, nephew of past Tour de France winner, Giro winner and World Champion Stephen Roche, and cousin of current Irish national champion and team leader of AG2R in this year’s Tour Nicholas Roche – won the Tour of Poland. And with a pedigree like that it’s not really surprising, is it?

Dan Martin is popping with raw natural talent and a formidable power to weight ratio. So far his form has been slightly erratic, but some impressive performances have marked him out as a young rider to watch. His rise into the professional ranks and to the top of the sport seems like a formality considering his inherited cycling genes.

Of course their’s is not the only family dynasty in cycling; currently we have the tiresomely loyal Schlecks (the real life equivalent of the American Flyers brothers above, perhaps?). Bradley Wiggins’ father was a successful track cyclist. Victoria Pendleton’s father Max was a hill climbing ace, and introduced his children to grass track cycling at a young age. Closer to home we have the prodigiously talented young Germain Burton – recently finishing in second place in the Rollapaluza Urban Hill Climb at the age of just 15 – who is progressing well under the watchful eye of his father (and first black British national champion) Maurice.

So is it all just down to inherited talent? The perfect ratios of fast and slow twitch muscle fibres; VO2 max capacities; the correct mental make up that defines winners from also-rans? I have a feeling there’s something more too.

At Hillingdon in my last race as a fourth cat, I attacked early in the race dragging a young junior rider with me. We worked well as a duo to build a healthy lead over the rest of the bunch. The boy’s father stood at the start/finish line shouting encouragement and giving us time gaps. With just a few laps left to race, my breakaway companion appeared to tire, doing shorter turns, then not coming through at all, until finally I looked over my shoulder and he was no where to be seen. Assuming he’d popped completely, I pressed on aware that a chasing group was closing in fast as I began to fade. On the penultimate lap I was caught by this group of five or six riders, and lo and behold, there was my young breakaway friend comfortably sitting in. I hung onto the group and with one final effort scraped to fourth in the sprint for the line. And who won the race? It was the junior – of course.

It took me a while to figure out what had happened, until it dawned on me. The father had instructed him to drop back when it was clear we were going to get caught by the chasing break. In my ignorance I had wasted the last of my energy in a heroic attempt to stave them off, but had only succeeded in jeopardizing my chances to win. In short, I had been out-witted by a 14 year old – and by his wily dad supporting from the sidelines.

It can take years to hone racing tactics, to know how to train effectively, how to prepare for races and seasons. Experienced insight gives a young rider a little head start in their cycling careers – and it can help take them a very long way.

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