It’s not the fact that Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) won one of France’s most prestigious races at Paris-Nice that has everyone taking notice, but how he did it.
Most of the pundits expected the barrel-chested German to win the 27km individual time trial on Friday, which he did in convincing fashion by taking 20 seconds out of Olympic pursuit champion Bradley Wiggins (Sky), but there were doubts about Martin’s durability over two very difficult challenging climbing stages that featured 10 rated climbs to close out the last weekend of racing.
The 25-year-old Martin more than rose to the challenge. He stayed upright through treacherous racing conditions that saw scores of riders hit the deck and then fended off attacks from all sides to claim the first major stage-race victory of his career.
“It’s so great. It’s the biggest success ever in my career. I’m so happy, but I need some time to think about it and I’m just thrilled to win now,” a happy Martin said Sunday. “(Saturday), it was super cold, really dangerous in the descents and I’m very happy that I didn’t crash. I was not sure about my win (Sunday) because there were strong riders in the front, but everything ended fine.”
After winning the Volta ao Algarve in February, Paris-Nice is Martin’s second stage-race trophy of the season. He won both by an ever increasing dominance in the time trials coupled with his ever-steady presence in the mountains.
Martin will likely never be able to stay with the Schlecks and the Contadors in the mountains, but if he can limit the damage in the long-distance, high-altitude climbs and take enough in the TTs, he could quickly develop into a three-week stage-race threat.
That’s certainly what HTC-Highroad is betting on. The team has slowly nurtured Martin since signing him in 2008 and many inside the team expect 2011 to be his breakout year.
“He’s so bloody good, he’s so strong. It’s only a matter of time with Tony,” Highroad sport director Brian Holm told VeloNews. “We haven’t even pushed him yet in the Tour de France. He’s solid in the mountains and he never has a bad time trial.”
In his first year riding with Highroad in 2008, three of the four races Martin won were time trial stages before finishing off the season with seventh in the worlds’ race against the clock.
In 2009, he continued to impress in TTs, winning against the clock at Critérium International, Bayern Rundfahrt and taking bronze at the worlds. Martin added another important layer, however, showing tenaciousness in the mountains, including second up Mont Ventoux after holding out in an all-day breakaway at the Tour de France and winning the mountain jerseys at both Paris-Nice and the Tour de Suisse, where he also finished second overall.
For 2010, Martin was hoping to punch into the top-10 at the Tour. He stumbled at the Tour de Suisse when he lost the leader’s jersey in the mountains and before finishing at a distant 137th at the Tour. But he rebounded, winning the Eneco Tour and taking bronze again at the worlds TT.
For 2011, all the pieces seem to be coming together. The five-day Algarve is nothing compared to the prestige and difficult of Paris-Nice and the significance of the victory was not lost on HTC sport director Allan Peiper.
“Tony said he was going to come here to give it his best shot, and after Algarve we knew he was in good shape. Being a contender at Paris-Nice is one thing. Getting the win itself is something extraordinary,” Pieper said. “We’ve won lots of stage races before, but never one of this caliber and, at the same time, it’s a huge step up in Tony’s personal career, too.”
Peiper was especially pleased how HTC stepped up to defend Martin’s lead through the rain, cold, wind and terrain. Tejay Van Garderen and Kanstantsin Siutsou shrugged off falls to push on and Matt Goss, who won a stage and held the leader’s jersey earlier in the week, did his part to shadow Martin.
Martin and Vuelta third-place man Peter Velits will lead HTC’s GC hopes at the Tour this year. Neither will be expected to finish on the podium, but outstripping expectations has long been a part of Martin’s story line.
He’ll be under immense pressure not only to deliver for HTC, but also to carry the hopes of Germany. While a generation of German stars has already admitted past sins and Jan Ullrich has since disappeared into obscurity, Martin represents a new hope for German cycling.
Whether Martin can deliver on those heavy expectations remains to be seen, but he certainly doesn’t seem to be backing down from the challenge.
“It’s been a fantastic start of the season, which gives me so much confidence for the next races. I’ll be ready for the season,” Martin said. “It’s my biggest goal to have a good Tour de France. I hope I can do it. I think I’m ready for it.”
- Born: April 23, 1985 in Erfurt, Germany
- Height: 1.85 m
- Weight: 75 kg
- Thuringer (2006 and 2007)
- HTC-Highroad since 2008
- 2011: Paris-Nice (plus 1 time trial stage); Tour of the Algarve (plus 1 time trial stage)
- 2010: Tour of Benelux (plus 1 stage); time trial stage in Tour of Switzerland; time trial stage in Tour of California
- 2009: Stage (plus King of Mountains jersey) at Tour of Switzerland; King of Mountains jersey Paris-Nice; time trial stage Criterium International; stage at Bayern Rundfahrt
- 2008: Stage in Ster ElektroToer 2008 (time trial)
- 2010: National time trial champion; Bronze medal in world time trial championship
- 2009: Bronze medal in world time trial championship
- 2008: Het Mergelland