SALAMANCA, Spain (VN) — Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) blasted his way to victory against an elite field of time trial specialists Monday in Spain that will give him a huge boost going into the road world championships next month.
Martin took a whopping 1:27 out of arch-rival Fabian Cancellara (Leopard-Trek) in fourth while Sky’s surprising Chris Froome came closest at 59 seconds in second. By taking more than a second per kilometer to his top rivals, Martin is feeling good about earning his rainbow stripes in Denmark.
“This victory gives me a lot of confidence for Copenhagen,” Martin said. “This course today was similar to what we will see in Copenhagen, perhaps even a little more difficult. So to win with such big differences is surprising, but it’s also very nice. I know I am on a good way.”
With two bronze medals in the past two worlds, the 26-year-old German wants nothing less than to win the rainbow jersey in September.
Already a winner of TTs this season at Paris-Nice, the Algarve tour, the Critérium du Dauphiné, the Basque Country tour and the Tour de France, Martin’s win Monday further solidifies his credentials as cycling’s new TT king.
Monday’s out-and-back, 47km course gave everyone a preview of what to expect in Denmark. A change in wind direction helped Martin, however. When he raced earlier in the afternoon, it was mainly head/crosswinds heading out to the turn-around point and tail/crosswinds on the way home.
The later starters were getting pushed along with mostly tailwinds, but had to battle back against head/crosswinds, something that explains how third-place Bradley Wiggins was matching Martin at 30km, but eventually lost by 1:22.
“When we got nervous was at when the last 20 riders were on the course,” said HTC-Highroad sport director Jan Schaffrath. “The wind had changed so they had a tailwind at the beginning and the time splits were getting close. But, it turned out that they had a headwind home so overall it was pretty much the same for everyone and he was the strongest on the day.”
The big surprise of the day was Froome, who rode beyond expectations to snatch the red leader’s jersey from Bauke Mollema (Rabobank), who slipped to seventh at 1:07 back.
“I got the green light from the team today to go for it in the TT. It’s better for Sky to have two GC options in the race,” said Froome, who became the first African-born rider to lead the Vuelta. “I just had a really good day. This is just fantastic.”
Wiggins started too hard, faded against the gusting winds and couldn’t deliver the double that many were expecting. Instead of winning the stage and taking red, he was third on both counts, stopping the clock 1:22 slower and climbing into third at 20 seconds back. The Sky tandem is separated by the solid performance of Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek), who won the red leader’s jersey in the stage 1 TTT. Fuglsang was sixth on the stage and settled into second at 12 seconds back.
Another surprise was Taylor Phinney, who rode to an impressive fifth place. Phinney said the course was harder than it looked on paper.
“The profile showed it was flat, but I’ve learned over the past 10 days that there are no flat roads in Spain,” Phinney said. “It was sort of rolling up and down the whole time. Half of the way it was on pretty bumpy roads, so it was hard to find a rhythm — always up and down. It made for a tough hour because you had to be concentrated on what you were doing for an hour. I just focused on what was ahead, the key parts of the race.”
Among the specialists who couldn’t live up to expectations is reigning German time trial champion Bert Grabsch, who beat his HTC-Highroad teammate Martin for the jersey by nearly a minute in June. Grabsch complained that the grueling Vuelta parcours took the wind out of his sails and he limped in at 21st at 3:00 off the pace.
“I am really tired after one week. With the heat, so many hard stages. I think this Vuelta is too hard. They make it shorter, but harder,” Grabsch said. “In my opinion, it’s a bad way and not the right way. It’s too hard. In the end, we are climbing more meters than the Giro or the Tour.”
Cancellara was gracious in defeat and said he will have to up his game if he hopes to defend his world title in Denmark.
“I was beaten fair and square,” said Cancellara. “Today I was not good enough. I know I can be better. I lacked the power to win this time trial. I had a rocky start. I didn’t feel smooth in the beginning. I know where I stand now, and I know where I can improve. I will analyze my effort with [Sports Director] Luca [Guercilena] and move forward. Am I disappointed?” he asked. “Yes and no. To win a time trial like this, you need to be 100 percent. I was obviously not 100 percent today. Martin deserved the win. He’s a great talent, and he has a great will to be the strongest and fastest time trialist. He is a challenge for me. I consider him real competition.”
Martin steps up
It was Martin who stole everyone’s thunder Monday.
Martin revealed that after two bitter experiences at the Tour de France, where he raced without much luck in the GC (137th in 2010, 44th in 2011), that he will turn his attention fully toward time trialing and smaller stage races. His victories at Paris-Nice and the Tour of the Algarve, both anchored by big TT victories, confirmed his thinking in his change of direction.
“I tried the past two years for the GC in the Tour and it was a little disappointing for me,” Martin said. “I have now decided that in the future I will focus on the big time trials during the season and one-week races that are good for me, like Paris-Nice and the Basque tour. My big goal now is the world championships and then the Olympic Games in London next year.”
Martin is arguably one of the strongest and most versatile riders in the bunch. Since joining Highroad in 2008, in addition to winning TTs and developing as a stage racer, he’s been an integral part of Mark Cavendish’s lead-out train. Martin was the rider who ramped up the speed with two to one kilometer to go, driving the peloton so fast and hard that no one could even think about trying to ride off the wheel.
Martin expressed his sadness at the demise of the Highroad team, which is shuttering its doors at the end of the 2011 season.
“Everyone was very sad when we heard the decision to close the team. It was like a good friend had died,” Martin said. “It took us a few days to recognize the news, but now it’s time to think about the future. It’s not good that a team like HTC-Highroad cannot find a sponsor to continue in the sport. It’s very sad, but now it’s time to look to the future.”
Martin said he’s already decided on a team, but will not reveal which one for a few more days.