Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) surged into the overall leader’s jersey at Paris-Nice after an impressive victory in the 27km individual time trial Friday that saw three Americans punch into the top-10.
Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) surged into the overall leader’s jersey at Paris-Nice after an impressive victory in the 27km individual time trial Friday that saw three Americans punch into the top 10.
Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Cervélo) posted an excellent seventh, with Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) slotting into ninth and Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) stopped the clock for 10th. Leipheimer climbed into sixth overall, but Martin looks to be in the driver’s seat with two stages to go.
“My first goal was to win the stage, it’s always nice to win a stage on Paris-Nice, especially a time-trial,” Martin said. “It was tough but now I have the jersey, it was the real goal and I hope to defend it in the next few days. I will need a really strong team but I have a very strong team so I really hope I can take the jersey to Nice and I’m confident I can do it.”
The longest time trial at Paris-Nice in nearly four decades saw the specialists go head-to-head for the first time since last year’s world championships in Australia, and Martin proved yet again he’s only out-classed by Fabian Cancellara in the race against the clock.
Cancellara isn’t at Paris-Nice, and even if he was, he would have had a stiff challenge beating back a superb Martin who fended off a world-class field.
Bradley Wiggins (Sky) came closest to challenging Martin with second at 20 seconds slower while Ritche Porte (Saxo Bank-Sungard) confirmed his rising status with an equally impressive ride for third at 29 seconds off the pace.
With his second TT win on the year, Martin turned his 10-second deficit into a 36-second lead going into the final weekend of racing.
Martin said he was confident he could hold on to the lead. A victory at Paris-Nice would be a big boost for German cycling, where Martin is seen as a hope following a string of devastating doping scandals.
“For sure, I hope the Germans see this and maybe come back to watching it and start to like it again like when Jan Ullrich as very popular. I hope this will help cycling come back to Germany,” Martin said. “It’s so close in the GC that every rider in the top 10 is dangerous, especially the RadioShack.”
If Martin sounds confident, he should be. He’s used a similar tactic to win the Volta ao Algarve last month by staying close in the mountains and then drilling it in the time trial.
It won’t be a park on the walk, however, with Saturday’s and Sunday’s mountainous stages presenting Martin with a tough challenge.
Overnight leader Andreas Klöden (RadioShack) started the day with a slender, four-second gap to Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), but slipped to second overall after stopping the clock 46 seconds slower for fourth on the stage.
TT shakes things up
The stage started with the top 23 all stacked up within 29 seconds of each other, but it certainly didn’t end that way. As expected, the power course that featured a long, grinding climb about two-thirds through the course, created some important differences on GC.
Behind Martin and Klöden on GC are Wiggins, who climbed from 17th to third at 39 seconds back. Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) climbing from eighth to fourth at 1:10 and Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale) moving up from 16th to fifth at 1:14 off the pace.
Oleksandr Kvachuk (Lampre) was the first rider to take off at 13:35 and set a first mark of 37:21. The Ukrainian rider was quickly overtaken by Damien Gaudin (Europcar) (36:35) and Christophe Riblon (AG2R) in 36:02.
British road champion Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) was the first to break the 36-minute barrier in 35:24, a mark rapidly shattered by in-form Dutchman Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil), who crossed the line in 34:21 (47.16 kph).
It was an impressive performance by the man who had only lost to Martin in the Tour of Algarve time trial. The only rider to come any close was Garmin’s Talansky, his country’s under-23 champion and one of the great prospects in the discipline.
Talansky was eight seconds slower. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) was faster at the 15.5-kms mark (17:18) but faltered in the finale to finish 32 seconds behind Westra in his final Paris-Nice.
Westra’s time held for one hour and 15 minutes until Porte took off and bettered his mark by 28 seconds. The Australian, winner of a Tour de Romandie TT last season and 4th in the discipline’s worlds, clocked 33:53 to finally take third place.
As the favorites started to take their turns, Wiggins logically claimed top spot, improving Porte’s time by nine seconds (33:44). It was a fine performance by the multiple world and Olympic pursuit champion but not good enough to resist Martin.
With three riders — Klöden, Leipheimer and Janez Brajkovic — in the top seven, RadioShack is sure to give HTC-Highroad food for thought over the ensuing two stages, which are hilly, technical and might be held in challenging weather conditions.
RadioShack sports director Alain Gallopin said: “Andreas had a solid performance, he can’t be too disappointed. But what can he do against the younger guys? Still, Jani and Levi are not too far back, and the weathermen have predicted rain, so maybe we have a chance.”
Martin’s team will also be wary of Team Sky, who saw Wiggins move back up the overall standings to third at just 39 seconds.
The Londoner is not known for his attacking prowess, but after a solid ascent of the difficult Col de la Mure on Thursday he is far from being out of contention.
Among the big casualties Friday was Belgian Jurgen Van den Broeck, who finished fifth overall at last year’s Tour de France but was more than three minutes slower than Martin and dropped to 24th overall.
“I just didn’t have the legs today,” said the Omega-Pharma rider. “But there’s no need to panic. The Tour de France and July is still far away.”
Porte, who had lost over a minute on Thursday’s stage, was delighted with his result.
“It sure gives me and the whole team moral for the coming challenges. I think I have improved my time trial a lot after our training camp where we worked on my position on the bike,” said the Tasmanian.
The 69th Paris-Nice continues Saturday with the longest stage of the week with the 215km, five-climb sixth stage from Brignoles-Biot to Sophina Antipolis. With six days of racing in their legs, the length of this stage is sure to hurt the riders in the route over the cols along the edge of the Alpes-Maritimes.
The pace will be grueling over a pair of first-category climbs at Côte de Cabris and the Col du Ferrier. The stage ends with two laps of an 18km circuit in the heights of Biot-Sophia Antipolis on the menu, will also be a real leg-breaker.
- 1. Tony Martin, HTC – Highroad, in 33:24
- 2. Bradley Wiggins, Sky Procycling, in 33:44 at 0:20
- 3. Richie Porte, Saxo Bank Sungard, in 33:53 at 00:29
- 4. Andréas Klöden, Team RadioShack, in 34:10 at 00:46
- 5. Jean-Christophe Peraud, Ag2r La Mondiale, in 34:19 at 00:55
- 1. Tony Martin, HTC – Highroad, in 24:59:47
- 2. Andréas Klöden, Team RadioShack, at 00:36
- 3. Bradley Wiggins, Sky Procycling, at 00:39
- 4. Rein Taaramae, Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne, at 01:10
- 5. Jean-christophe Peraud, Ag2r La Mondiale, at 01:14