As the speaker called his name and the crowds roared, there was a small moment of reflection for the German. The 36-year-old will retire Wednesday after contesting the mixed team relay, putting an end to an illustrious career.
The 43.3k effort into Bruges is the last time we’ll see Martin in an individual time trial. There would be little time for sentimentalities for him as he set off to put in his best worlds TT since 2016.
“It was really emotional for a few seconds on the start ramp when the speaker called my name, and the crowds were cheering. When the clocks started to count, I was in pure race mode, and I was 100 percent concentrating on the race,” Martin told a group of waiting press in Bruges.
“Mostly I realize the big results, the big victories, and the most important decisions after a few days, when I’m alone and when I have a few days to think about it. I think then I will get a bit more emotional when I’m alone.”
The reality of Martin’s retirement may not have completely sunk in, but the German was in a reflective mood as he patiently spoke to anyone who wanted to ask questions.
Over the years, Martin’s post-race interviews have often been like his time trials — quick, to the point, and with little room for fluff. With his final competitive elite TT done and dusted, Martin appeared unburdened.
By the end of this week, he will be a free agent with no major race or goal to focus on.
“I will come home on Thursday and then I don’t really have plans for the first time in my life. For the moment, it feels good, and then I will have a look for the next goals in my life,” Martin said.
“I made this decision and, for the moment, I have never regretted it and especially I’m really happy that the team has supported me in this way and that they have given me the chance to end my career as I wished. For me, it’s really the perfect surroundings here. It’s just nice to be here with the fans, with my closest people, and to say goodbye here in Belgium.”
A career of two parts
Martin’s career has spanned 17 years, 14 of which were at the top-tier after joining Team High Road back in 2008. After a prolific start to his career, his success has been measured more by how he works for his teammates rather than his individual victories in recent years.
As he has transitioned into primarily a support role in the latter stages of his career, it can be easy to forget just how dominant he was in the discipline. In Copenhagen in 2011, Martin put a permanent stop to Fabian Cancellara’s long reign over the TT rainbow bands and began his own three-year residency in the jersey.
“When I’m asked for my biggest victory, the world championships victory in Copenhagen 10 years ago comes directly in my head. It was my breakthrough, my biggest result until there. I will remember this feeling my whole life. It’s the nicest and most emotional victory,” Martin said.
Martin’s TT talents helped him to several GC wins, including at Paris-Nice, but his powers were not limited to just time trialing. He won fans with his huge solo breakaway at the 2013 Vuelta a España that only got reeled in with meters to go and took some impressive victories out on the road.
After his win on the cobbles at the 2015 Tour de France, Martin decided to test the waters as a one-day man. He made his classics debut in 2016 but his tenure on the cobbles was short-lived and he couldn’t re-live the highs of that 2015 Tour.
Through all the successes, Martin’s career has been marked by some big crashes. He had to leave that 2015 Tour in the back of an ambulance while wearing yellow after breaking his collarbone. This year saw him come down twice during the Tour, eventually abandoning after the second high-speed fall.
“I made the decision a few days after my bad crash at the Tour de France that forced me to quit the Tour. I had this thought in my head, but I took some time to really think about it. After a few weeks, the thoughts were still in my head, and it felt right,” he said, the scar on his lip from the fall still visible.
Martin has often been outspoken about issues within cycling, particularly those of safety, but he has found himself frustrated by a lack of impetus from organizers and a sense of apathy from his fellow riders. He still wants change, but he’ll be viewing the challenge for that from the sidelines.
“We still have the same standards as 10 years ago and nothing has really changed,” he said. “That’s not the sport that I love anymore and not the races I love anymore. A lot of motivation for fighting for better security has gone because a lot of the riders don’t seem to care about it. For me, it feels good to escape. I still hope that there will be some changes because I don’t want to see bad crashes anymore on the television.”