Omega Pharma-QuickStep's Tony Martin is always in for a crazy move. At last year’s Vuelta a España, the "Panzerwagen" nearly managed to complete a solo ride from start to finish, only passed in the final metres. The triple time trial world champion came up with a similar attack during stage 9 at the Tour de France, through the Vosges mountains on Sunday.
Together with Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) the 29-year-old German rider rode away from the peloton on the descent off of the first climb. The duo held off the chase group on the three following climbs. On the penultimate climb, Martin dropped De Marchi and steamed on towards a solo win by nearly three minutes over the twenty remaining chasers.
Team manager Patrick Lefevere regarded it as a Merckxian victory; a bold ride in the style of cycling's best ever rider Eddy Merckx.
"To be compared with Eddy Merckx is quite the compliment. There's not many riders who can do exploits like him. I have to do it this way. I'm not the guy to play games in a large group. Once I have the gap, I know that I can go really fast. Today worked perfectly. I had really good legs and it was my weather. Being with just one guy in a breakaway really suited me. We didn't play games," Martin said at the post-race press conference.
"I think I'm known for crazy actions in the past. It doesn't always work out but today it did. There was a strategy behind it. It would be hard for me in that group of 28 riders. There was a flat finish and I'm not the fastest man in the sprint. I decided to go all in, or nothing. I expected that the riders in the group would watch each other. There would be a moment that they gave up. Then we had 1:30 and then at one moment even three minutes. I knew that we broke their moral. With a TT performance, I knew I would make it."
Two days after the victory from Matteo Trentin in Nancy, the Omega Pharma – QuickStep team is doing more than just salvaging their Tour de France after the departure from their sprinter Mark Cavendish. Lefevere was a delighted man. "This really is one of the biggest rides I've ever seen and I've been in the cycling sport for quite a while now. For one hour he fought for only thirty seconds. I'm actually feeling sorry for De Marchi. He'll need psychological assistance tonight," Lefevere said, while adding he was working hard to prolong Martin's contract.
"The negotiations are ongoing and I'd love to finish them before the end of the Tour. If he stays with us, he can have a go at the hour record in 2016. He's from former East-Germany and an Olympic title is worth something over there. Then a flight from Rio to Mexico isn't much of a deal."
Martin stated that Trentin's win took pressure off the team. "We never lost moral and were always very active in the race. We always stayed out of the crashes and tried something in the crosswinds. Only maybe the evening that Cav was out we were a bit downhearted. We knew we could try something, sometimes crazy. Today it was up to Jan Bakelants but when he didn't get away it was up to me to try something."
Martin's win is the fifth stage win form a German rider in nine days, after wins from Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) and André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol). Nevertheless, the German TV is not broadcasting the Tour de France live. They pulled the plug since the 2007 Tour de France when Patrick Sinkewitz was caught doping. Tony Martin hoped the news about his win would reach the home front. "I don’t know what's going on with German cycling. I hope everybody will realize what we're doing. We’re really close to the German border."
The football World Cup final was to be played a few hours after the Tour de France stage, possibly a good omen for Germany in its game against Argentina, since Olaf Ludwig won a stage in the Tour de France the last time Germany won the World Cup in 1990. "It's a good sign. I hope I have time to watch it," Martin said.