Less than a month out from the UCI Road World Championships in Toscana, two of the best in the time trial business battled it out for stage honours on Thursday at the Vuelta a Espana.
The 170km solo escape of Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) was only brought to an end metres from the stage 6 finish line, and it was Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) leading the chase. In the end, neither man won, instead it was Michael Mørkøv (Saxo-Tinkoff) who took the win in a sprint to the line, with Maximiliano Richeze (Lampre-Merida) finishing ahead of Cancellara. Martin was seventh.
Cancellara is a four-time winner of the world time trial championship, and his most recent two-year streak (he had another in 2006, 2007) was brought to an end by Martin with the German claiming the last two titles. Earlier this week, Cancellara said he was yet to decide which discipline would receive his focus at the worlds.
"It was an unexpected sprint, actually, and rather a strange day," said the Swiss. "Tony Martin was out all day and the sprinters' teams needed to be working hard to bring him back. But in the end it was only two teams working so there was plenty of chaos at the end with no one in total control. We were with Chris [Horner], Haimar [Zubeldia] and Robert [Kiserlovski] in the front and soon enough I realized it was going to be hard to bring them back, but we were still up there in a good position.
"I felt pretty good and decided I might as well give it a try," he said of the final chase. "I went too far out but as a non-sprinter, I think I reacted fairly well and put up a big sprint. It was a nice effort and it has boosted my confidence that there is good power in my legs."
The result was a good recovery for Cancellara who said that he'd struggled on the previous stage to Lago de Sanabria.
"Today was perfect for me with the rolling parcours," he explained. "Tomorrow my legs will hurt at the start from the effort, but that's okay. The guys asked me why I didn't ask for help but it was something unexpected. I was just in a good position at 2km to go and I moved up and then decided to go for the sprint. It's good for the morale of the team."
RadioShack Leopard has three riders in the top 10 with Horner second overall, three seconds behind race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). Zubeldia is 13 seconds further back in fourth, with Kiserlovski sixth at 26 seconds.