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Roubaix: Martin aims to emulate Wiggins

Tony Martin gradually reinvents himself as a classics hard-man, and though he's yet to be a game-changer, he could be a factor in Roubaix.

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GENT, Belgium (VN) — German Tony Martin once ruled time trials and tried grand tours, but says his focus is now on the cobbled classics. He will face his favorite one, Paris-Roubaix, on Sunday in northern France.

The three-time time trial world champion branched out this spring with his classics-mad team Etixx – Quick-Step. He debuted in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Like a warrior of the north, he crashed but still powered onward to help team leader Tom Boonen.

“I want to transform to a classics rider for the spring, for the classics,” 30-year-old Martin told VeloNews. “I’m no longer suited to the big classification races, that was the past, when sports directors pushing me in Highroad. That’s not really my area. I feel more comfortable in the classics, I think they suit me better. Also look at the surroundings. Being in this Belgian team with the attention the team gives the classics … You really feel it!”

Martin powered team Etixx over the cobbled Paddestraat sector midway into the Ronde van Vlaanderen on Sunday and kept going over climbs and to the first passage of the Kwaremont. The cobbles and efforts suited his time trial motor well.

Bradley Wiggins, the 2014 time trial champion, Olympic track gold medallist, and 2012 Tour de France victor, tried the same in the last years of his Team Sky career. In 2014 and 2015, he switched focus to Paris-Roubaix and finished ninth then 18th, respectively

“Like Wiggins? Yes, that’s the theory,” Martin added. “I hope I’d be able to win someday, but there’s a process for the next few years. I think Roubaix suits me better than Flanders, but you never know. I still haven’t done these races, so you’ll have to ask me when Roubaix’s over.”

Based on the Ronde, Martin could open the throttle and ride clear if the favorites mark Etixx’s other leaders Boonen, Niki Terpstra, or Zdenek Stybar. That is the theory, as Martin says.

Martin still has much to learn. His only Flemish or cobbled one-day race before this year was the 2008 Scheldeprijs. However, he showed potential already in the 2015 Tour’s cobbled stage to Cambrai, which he won.

“It’s getting better for me on the cobbles. It’s a hard process, crashing in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and try to win in the Three Days of De Panne,” Martin added. “I get to know the mentality of the classic races, the roads, the important points where you have to be in the front. It’s good so far, but I’m still far from being on top.”

Martin will not leave time trialling behind with both the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and world championship in Doha on the horizon. He added, “I’m still trying to get back to my old time trial performances. These are my two focuses.”