Making Martínez

Making Martínez

In the first of EF Gone Racing’s written pieces, we introduce 22-year-old Dani Martínez, the newly crowned Colombian time trial king.

08 February 2019

Polite and boyish, with a big toothy smile train-tracked by braces, Dani Martínez doesn’t have the look of an athlete on the cusp of greatness.

Yet the young Colombian, who rides for EF Education First Pro Cycling, has dreams of winning the Tour de France one day, and he’s been chasing it since day one.

“Cycling is everything to me. It’s the sport that most fills me with satisfaction and love. The first day I picked up a bicycle I knew I wanted to take it to the highest level,” he says.

That fateful first outing owes much to Dani’s big brother Jeison, who was already a keen cyclist. Seeing his younger sibling frustrated at missing out on a chance with a local football club, he found a spare bicycle and took Dani into the hills.

The bike was rickety and caked in rust. Much too big and much too heavy, it was so ancient that Dani had to stop, take the back wheel off and flip it round whenever he wanted to change gear.

Annoyed at being left behind by his brother every time he stopped, Dani decided to try and stay in the big ring all the time. A 42-teeth sprocket would make mincemeat of most young legs, but not Dani’s – he was a big-ring boy wonder.

"The first day I picked up a bicycle I knew I wanted to take it to the highest level.”

Skip forward ten years – and plenty more bikes that weren’t good enough for the legs that pedalled them – and the 22-year-old demonstrated his brute strength by winning his first elite national time trial title last Saturday. He demolished the previous year’s winner, the equally prodigious Egan Bernal of Team Sky, putting one minute and twenty nine seconds into him over just 28km.

The two will go mano a mano again at this week’s Tour Colombia 2.1 (formerly known as ‘Oro y Paz’), on terrain that more typically suits Colombian cyclists: the climbs. “Truly, climbing is tough,” says Dani. “The day-to-day training helps with the suffering, but at the races we are animals... Seeing the others suffer behind me is something I find rewarding.” The boy has bite.

Along with Miguel Ángel ‘Superman’ López, third in the time trial, Bernal and Martínez lead a new generation of Colombian ‘vueltómanos’, or all-rounders. It is a far cry from the outdated stereotype of tough but fragile pure climbers who would struggle with the cultural differences of living across the pond in Europe, and who couldn’t TT for toffee.

At the age of 18, Dani was already racing around the world at UCI Pro Continental level. The next year he signed for an Italian team, who entered him into the Giro d’Italia, where he became the youngest ever Colombian to take part. He didn’t just get round either, lighting up the day’s breakaways on stages 7 and 14.

The following year, in 2017, Dani took 4th overall at the Tour of Turkey, and 7th at the Italian one-day race Milano-Torino, earning himself a move up to the top table of the sport with EF Education First.

“My intuition was that he was going to develop into a top tier rider before he even raced for us,” says team CEO Jonathan Vaughters. “But you never know.... so I’m glad that guess is proving correct.”

Dani was handed opportunities to ride as leader in only his first year with the team, and he delivered with a third place at the Tour of California, behind the winner Bernal. A great rivalry between the two of them is a prospect to relish.

Much of the rest of his season was spent riding as a ‘gregario de lujo’, or luxury helper, in the service of Rigoberto Urán. “He’s a huge reference, not just in Colombia but in the world,” says Dani. “His personality has helped get him to where he is. He’s well liked within the peloton. As a leader he’s very calm and whenever I work for him, I do so with pleasure.”

Indeed, Dani considers Rigo a big reason for the cycling boom in Colombia: “The pioneers of Colombian cycling were guys like Nairo [Quintana], Rigo [Urán, his EF team mate], Juan Mauricio Soler, Mauricio Ardila. If you go to Colombia there are so many young riders who are getting stronger and want to be pros. The success of those riding in Europe encourages and motivates those at home – as it did for me.”

"It was magnificent. Like a Tour de France. In Colombia. In February."

The roles will be reversed for this week’s Tour Colombia 2.1, after Urán’s early season form was hampered by a foot injury. He will ride in support of Dani instead: “working with Dani is something really special," says Urán. "He has a lot of talent and really wants to learn. Last year in various races, in the Tour and at the end of the season, I had the opportunity to race beside him, and he's spectacular."

Aside from wanting to perform well for Rigo, Dani will be boosted by the support of Colombia’s wildly passionate fans. Last year was the first edition of the race. The crowds were ten-deep at the roadsides in places, and the chants of ‘Nairo! Nairo!’ and ‘Rigo! Rigo!’ were deafening. “It was magnificent,” says Dani. “A different kind of race, like a Tour de France, in Colombia, in February.”

This year should be different, however – the fans will be chanting his name as well. Flipping that rear wheel must seem such a long time ago.


The next episode of EF Gone Racing will be filmed at Tour Colombia 2.1 and released shortly afterwards. Catch up on the series so far and subscribe below.