SAN BENEDETTO DEL TRONTO, Italy (VN) — Three time trials and zero victories. What’s up with three-time world time trial champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)?
Martin starts every time trial with the idea of winning, but after being blanked so far this season, there’s no denying that the German is not dominating the time trials as he has the past few seasons.
In Tuesday’s 9.1km final stage at Tirreno-Adriatico, Martin stopped the clock 15 seconds slower than winner Adriano Malori (Movistar), good enough for fourth, behind arch-rivals Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) and Bradley Wiggins (Sky), who also beat him.
“He won here last year, and he was about the same time as last year, but Malori is obviously going very fast,” said Omega Pharma sport director Brian Holm. “He’s not too happy about it. No one wants to finish second or fourth.”
Martin has emerged as the time trialist of reference since the 2011 season, winning nearly every time trial he started, and claiming three world time trial crowns in a row.
Der Panzerwagen prefers time trials long and hard, and so far this year, the longest he’s raced was 13.4km at the Volta a Algarve, but it’s clear the 28-year-old German is off his top early season form.
“It will be a question of getting the first win. They’re like sprinters. Once they get the first win, then the confidence builds,” Holm continued. “It looks like a slow start this year.”
Malori has been the season’s revelation against the clock, winning the time trial stage at the Tour de San Luís. He was seventh in Dubai, where Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) took revenge from Argentina, and second in Algarve, where Martin’s Omega Pharma-Quick Step teammate Michal Kwiatkowski beat him by 10 seconds.
On Tuesday, on a flat, out-and-back course along the Adriatic coast, he beat back a world-class field, with Olympic TT gold medalist Wiggins, four-time world champion Cancellara, and Martin all gunning for the win.
“Today’s result against the top list of names is the best that I could imagine,” Malori said. “Today is a major point of arrival for me, but it’s also a beginning, because the road to the worlds is long.”
Malori’s improving TT prowess shouldn’t come as a total surprise. He was a two-time U23 world time trial champion (2007 and 2008), and the Italian national champ in 2011.
Most of pro wins have come in short to medium-length time trials, and he admits when the distance pushes north of 30km, Martin resumes favorite status.
“Habit has a lot to do with it, Fabian and Tony have both raced many grand tours, and raced longer time trials than me,” he said. “I haven’t done so many, and the national championships are usually around 30km, so I need to gain more experience in the grand tours.”
Malori, 26, is among a new generation of time trial specialists nipping at the heels of Martin. Others include Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano) and Alex Dowsett (Movistar), as well as Phinney, who raced last week at Paris-Nice.
Despite some early season hiccups, Martin remains the gold standard at present, something even Cancellara admits.
“I had a chat with Tony the other day. I said to him, I’ve done everything in time trials, and somehow I have lost the will to go on with that,” Cancellara said, who demonstrated he can still post a strong time trial. “I am not racing here all week thinking about the time trial stage, because that’s not me anymore. … I don’t get the same satisfaction. I am more happy to win a one-day race, or a stage.”
Just as Cancellara discovered, it’s tough being at the top, with everyone putting a target on your back. Now it’s Martin’s turn to defend his crown. Phinney and Malori are licking their chops.