Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) has insisted that he will not mount a general classification challenge at the 2012 Tour de France and will instead focus on fine-tuning his preparation for the Olympic time trial in London.
With almost 100km of time trialling on the route, this year’s Tour appears to offer Martin a fine opportunity to test his credentials as a stage racer, but the German admitted that he was loathe to compromise his Olympic chances. While he is targeting victory in each of the Tour’s long time trials, as well as the Liège prologue, he will not begin the race with any aspirations of a high overall placing.
“If it comes, it comes by itself, but I won’t be disappointed if I get dropped in the mountains when I can fight for two stages, maybe try and wear yellow and then have a successful Olympics,” Martin told reporters at the Omega Pharma-Quick Step presentation in Vilvoorde. “It will be hard to fight for the podium and the Olympics in the same year. I will focus on the time trials, on the prologue and on wearing the yellow jersey, but I won’t go for the GC.”
At 26 years of age, Martin believes that he has ample time ahead of him to explore his possibilities as a stage racer and pointed out that he will have fewer opportunities to capture Olympic gold. After wresting the world time trial title from Fabian Cancellara in Copenhagen last September, Martin is clearly keen to make the most of his current pre-eminence in the discipline.
“The Olympics are only every four years. Maybe I can take part in the next three Olympic Games, but it’s not so many times,” Martin said. “I really want to keep a chance and I want to be 100% fit there and I don’t want to have any risks beforehand.
“I think I am still young and it’s not abnormal to ride the Tour at 35, 36 or 37 and maybe be at the top of your performance at that age, so I still have eight, nine or maybe ten years where I can build up my performance in the mountains, lose some weight, and get better and get more of the experience that you need for three week stage races.”
Martin is also aware that an Olympic gold medal would be a major boon to cycling in Germany, where the sport has struggled for credibility in the eyes of a general public jaded by a succession of doping scandals. Speaking to Cyclingnews in December, Andreas Klöden, one of the leading players in the rise and fall of German cycling, expressed his regret – though not his surprise – that his fellow countryman Martin had not been among the contenders for Germany’s sportsman of the year.
“Everybody is happy in Germany if you win a medal for Germany, so it’s a really good chance to reach people who went away from cycling years ago,” Martin acknowledged. “Maybe there’s a chance to bring them back now. I want to take the chance and hopefully I can make cycling a little bit more popular in Germany again.
“I think the chance is there now, 2012 is a big opportunity for cycling in Germany. I’ll be aware of that and motivated by that. It’s not only me, we have so many young talents right now and they are so successful.”
After four seasons as part of the Highroad set-up, Martin was forced to find a new squad when the team disbanded at the end of 2011. “In my normal life, I don’t like changes,” he admitted. “I would normally say never change a winning system, and with Highroad we had a winning system. But it was the moment to change because the team was closing and I think I made the best of that.”
Martin was a valued commodity on the transfer market, and the ambitious Project 1t4i squad was one of his most persistent suitors. Ultimately, however, he opted for the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team, where he will be joined by five of his former Highroad teammates, as well as directeur sportif Brian Holm.
“I had some really good meetings with the guys from Skil-Shimano but in the end I decided for Omega Pharma-Quick Step because my feeling was better. I think I had better chances on the team and also with the material for 2012,” Martin said. “I think we can almost say that we’re building up a new team, and I’m really happy to be part of it.”
While Patrick Lefevere’s squad’s traditional focus has been on the cobbled classics, the realities of competing at WorldTour level has forced a slight shift in emphasis. Along with Martin, Levi Leipheimer and Peter Velits will be charged with delivering results in stage races, and the German is confident that the trio can work in harmony.
“For the moment we need to get to know each other first, see the first races and how the performance on the road goes,” he said. “Don’t forget about Peter Velits – he’s also shown that he can be really good in a three-week race. Let’s wait for the first races and we’ll see the results and performances."