Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) is seen as the hot favourite at Paris-Nice for victory in Friday's 27.5km individual time trial from Rognes to Aix-en-Provence. The 25-year-old German was part of the decisive eight-man breakaway which formed today on the Col de la Mûre climb with nine kilometres to go. Martin took strong pulls approaching the finish line in order to create time gaps to the general classification riders who missed the move.
Martin finished fourth on the stage to compatriot Andreas Klöden (RadioShack) and as a result now holds fourth overall, only 10 seconds behind Klöden. Friday's time trial stage may see the German powerhouse move into the overall lead at Paris-Nice.
"To win Paris-Nice is one of my big goals this year," Martin told Cyclingnews. "My status at the Tour de France could also be different, depending on my final result here. This is a really important race for my career. I'm in good shape and very optimistic."
Several of Martin's GC rivals, such as Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), Richie Porte (Saxo Bank Sungard) and Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) lost significant time on stage 5. Another Paris-Nice hopeful, teammate Tejay Van Garderen, lost time as well but played a crucial pace-setting role on the Col de la Mûre climb to keep the break of Robert Kiserlovski (Astana) and Matteo Carrara (Vacansoleil-DCM) under wraps.
"One of us has to finish on the final podium of Paris-Nice, if not both of us," Van Garderen told Cyclingnews at the start of today's stage. With Van Garderen now 1:46 off the lead, the 22-year-old American will use Friday's time trial as a test, and work for Martin this weekend in Paris-Nice's hilly concluding stages.
Martin and Van Garderen had already finished one-two at a stage race this season at last month's Volta ao Algarve where Martin claimed overall victory with a win in the final stage time trial, while Van Garderen claimed second overall.