Twelve months ago Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) all but sealed overall victory on the opening day of the Tour of Beijing, building up an unassailable lead in the stage one time trial.
With no such test included in this year’s rather hillier race route, and with a number of teams desperate for UCI WorldTour points, it was easy to assume that Martin had simply returned to China to fulfil an obligation as defending champion before winding down his season.
So much for conventional wisdom. On a rugged stage through the fringes of the Xi Mountains, Martin proved to be one of the day’s principal aggressors, carefully tracking the moves on the stirring climb to Mapoaquan, riding generously to help ensure the break fended off the peloton, and ultimately powering clear of his companions on the rapid descent towards the finish at Mentougou.
"If there is no time trial, you have to do your own one,” Martin said of his winning effort after the finish. “I had a very, very small chance today but I took it and I am very happy and proud of this.”
The German’s opening had come about almost by chance. After the leaders had traded blows on the final climb to Dong Gang Hong Tunnel, a brief stalemate ensued as the descent began. Martin drifted towards the front of the group and when he looked around two corners later, he realised that he had opened a gap.
“Suddenly there was a gap behind me to the other guys. I knew there were only 20km to the finish so I decided to try and take my chance,” said Martin, who realised that the remnants of the break would struggle to agree whose responsibility it was to chase. “As for me, I could just go full gas as I’m in really good shape and that’s why I could win today.”
No sprint finish
Before the start, Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) told Cyclingnews that he was optimistic of a bunch finish in spite of the ruggedness of the terrain, but those hopes were jettisoned as soon as Euskaltel-Euskadi missed the early break and strung out the peloton to bring it back. By day’s end, the average speed was some 43.678kph, which helped a remarkably fresh Martin to make the difference in the finale.
“We expected a hard race today,” Martin said. “Some guys were expecting a sprint, but we knew it would be hard and Euskaltel were making it hard. At the end, I just tried to attack. I knew that I’m not the strongest in the sprint and I had to ride alone. It was a bit of a risk, but everything is good now.”
By his own admission, Martin had salvaged his season by retaining his world time trial title in Valkenburg last month. But at the end of a long campaign that also included a training crash in April, an early abandon from the Tour de France and a bittersweet Olympic silver medal in London, Martin said that he was determined to take advantage of the final weeks of the season.
“I was lucky that I had a goal after the Worlds,” he said. “I was training really hard after the Worlds so I’m still really motivated. I also had a fantastic experience from last year and I really love this race. That’s why I wanted to come back here to China, I had already decided back in the spring. It’s not easy for me because there’s no time trial and I have to look for my chance in the break but today I could bring a nice gap from the others. It’s a really nice situation.”