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The team was poleaxed when Mark Cavendish crashed out on the opening stage, hitting the deck on a day when he had set all his hopes on winning and taking the yellow jersey. The Omega Pharma-Quick Step riders have fought back superbly, though, and on Sunday Tony Martin made it the second stage victory in three days for the squad when he soloed to a brilliant success in Mulhouse.
Martin was involved in the early action and went over the top of the Col du Wettstein with Cannondale’s Alesasndro De Marchi. The duo put the hammer down together and fended off the chase of a large group behind. Then, with 59 kilometres to go, Martin dropped his breakaway companion on the first category Côte de Gueberschwihr and soloed from there to the finish.
Using the same power and concentration which has earned him three world time trial titles, he hit the line two minutes 45 seconds ahead of the chase group led home by Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing).
“This really comes close to my first success in the worlds,” he said afterwards, savouring the success and the emotions it brought. “It was amazing. It is really special to win a road race, not just a time trial. And especially when you can celebrate it in the last few kilometres when you know you have it. The last few minutes in particular were incredible.”
Martin’s Omega Pharma-Quick Step manager Patrick Lefevere likened the victory to the top cyclist of all time, Eddy Merckx. He’s a little biased, of course, being the boss of Martin, but there certainly was a parallel to be made.
The Belgian was known for some very impressive long range attacks, a tactic which Martin employed to nab his win. Being spoken of in such a way was something which made an impression on him.
“Thanks for the complement, to be compared with Eddy Merckx is really a big honour,” he smiled, when told about his team boss’ words. “I think there are not so many guys in cycling at the moment who can do it like this.
“But I have to do it this way because I am not the guy for the big attacks, playing games. Once I have the gap I know I can make a good race, I can go really fast. Not just one hour TT but also three, four hours in a mountain stage.
“Today everything worked perfectly…I had really, really good legs, good condition. Being just with one guy in the break really suits me. We didn’t play any games, we just were going. It was just everything perfect.”
Martin had some frustration recently when he was isolated on the final stage of the Tour de Suisse and was forced to ride for a long time on the front to try to protect his leader’s jersey. He was ultimately unable to hold yellow there, but was clearly in very strong form.
He said that the Tour de Suisse performance wasn’t on his mind today. However he said that he had taken encouragement from how strongly he was riding there and knew he was capable of a good Tour.
Always a strong rider against the clock, the three time world champion used the same horsepower today to ensure that the break had a chance to remain clear. He and De Marchi gunned it for a long time despite a big group being close behind; looking at his characteristics and the likely outcome had he waited, Martin said there was no choice but to give it everything and try to stay clear.
“I think I am know for some crazy actions, also in the past. Not always it works out but today it did,” he said. “There was also some kind of strategy behind it. I knew that when the 20, 28 guys would chase us doing, for me the chance to win out of the break would be really, really difficult because there was a flat finish and I am not the fastest guy in the sprint.
“So I decided to go all or nothing. Uphill everybody goes fast but most of the time on the descent and the flat you can really make time as everybody in the big break is watching each other. I guess that happened behind us. Uphill we made the same speed, but on the top and the descents we made really good time. I knew there would be the point where they would give up.”
For a long time the duo’s advantage hovered around a minute and a half. They kept plugging on and eventually the elastic snapped. “At one point the gap grew to three minutes. Then I knew that we had broken their morale,” he stated. “I knew if I just went alone and did a good TT performance, I could make it today.”
The success is the fifth German stage victory in nine stages, a statistic that Martin said he couldn’t explain. However, amid rumours that the mainstream TV channels from that country are set to return to the race next year, he said that he hoped the performances are recognised.
“Honestly I don’t know what is going on,” he said. “But I hope everybody realises that we are really close to the German border. Maybe there is a good story about it.”
In addition to the boost to German cycling, his win is also a big plus for his team. Omega Pharma-Quick Step lost Cavendish early on, the rider who was its main hope for success, but two wins in the past three days have turned things around for the squad and ensured that the campaign was a good one.
The key, Martin suggested, was getting that first success. “For sure the victory of Matteo Trentin took off a little bit of pressure from the team,” he explained. “But we already showed before the victory that we never lost morale.
“We always were really active in the race, stayed all the time in the front and stayed out of trouble and the crashes. We also tried something in the crosswinds. So the morale was never down. Maybe just the evening when we knew that Cav was out, but afterwards we decided to make a really aggressive race here.
“The victory, the first one from Matteo took off the pressure. We knew that we could try something, also some crazy action. We tried with Bakelants, and the second choice was me.
That proved to be key. “It worked out. I think it was just perfect.”