The first thing you notice about Daniel Martínez is his smile. And then his laugh. Both come as natural as the way he slices up cycling’s steepest mountains.
The Colombian climber has plenty of reason for high spirits these days. The 22-year-old has been tapped to race his first Tour de France with EF Education First Drapac p/b Cannondale, EF Education First’s pro cycling team.
And it gets even better. His assigned task will be to protect his childhood hero, Rigoberto Urán. For Martínez, it’s like being called up to play point guard to Michael Jordan.
“My objective? That’s easy: to help Rigoberto Urán win the Tour de France!” says Martínez, his smile leaving no doubt he means it. “He was second last year, so why not? Everyone knows Rigo is capable of winning the Tour.”
Martínez might have to pinch himself. A Tour call-up is fulfilling a dream of every cyclist. It’s even more incredible in just his first season in the UCI WorldTour, the league of the best teams and racers in the world.
“I cannot believe that I will be racing alongside Rigo in the Tour. He’s a hero to me!” Martínez said. “I know what my job is. It’s to suffer and help Rigo.”
Martínez is part of a wave of Colombian riders making an impact in Europe. At 22, he’s also among the newest faces in cycling’s biggest races. His smile and contagious energy is making an impact, too.
“Cycling for me is a passion. It’s a job that comes easy. I hear of riders who do not like the bike, but it’s the opposite for me. My happiest morning is when I wake up knowing I have to ride my bike for six hours.”
Martínez hails from Soacha, a suburb of Colombia’s capitol of Bogotá, perched 8,500 feet above sea level. Local climbs hit 13,000 feet, meaning that Martínez has had plenty of practice climbing on the bike.
“My dream was to play soccer on the Barcelona football club. But I could ride a bike better than kicking the ball,” he says, chuckling. “Cycling is something that I could have never imagined doing as a professional. No one in my family is involved in the sport. Of course, now they are!”
Like most pros who eventually reach the Tour de France, he was superb at racing his bike. His early wins in the junior ranks earned him a slot on the Colombian national team as well as an invitation to train at the UCI’s World Cycling Center in Switzerland. Martínez soaked it all up.
“Like any professional, I like to suffer on the bike. If you do not like suffering, you must choose another job.”
Martinez’s determination and continued progress attracted the attention of EF Pro Cycling CEO Jonathan Vaughters.
“Dani caught my eye because he was succeeding all on his own on a small Italian team,” Vaughters says. “This isn’t so easy. Most Colombians get homesick, don’t adapt and need to go home. Daniel just made his own way inside Europe as a 20-year-old. He’s like a ‘mini-Rigo.’”
In addition to his focus on the Tour, Martinez is also working hard to improve his English skills by studying with EF English Live, the world’s largest online language school that EF launched with the help of Apple in the 1990s.
“I speak Spanish and Italian, and the English is coming along. I have been taking some classes online and the team speaks English. The team has an American feel to it, but it’s also very international. I felt right at home since the first moment.”
Ahead of the Tour, Martínez trained in Colombia, where he still lives with his parents. Like any good son, he enjoys his mom’s cooking, especially ajiaco, a tangy garlic chicken soup that’s a delicacy in Colombia. In what little spare time he might have, he likes to go fishing, take a paseo (an evening stroll) with his girlfriend or catch up on his favorite TV series. But right now, it’s all about the bike.
He’s not a household name yet, but that could change very fast.
“My dream? Of course, some day to be challenging for the victory in the sport’s biggest races.”