Just when it looked like the yellow jersey would slip through Tony Martin’s fingers for the fourth time in as many days the Etixx-QuickStep rider managed to pull something special out of the bag. A puncture on the penultimate sector of cobbles looked like it had finally put paid to any ambition Martin still held of taking yellow. However, the big German, normally known for his time trial skills, utilised his supreme power to jump clear with just over three kilometres remaining and take yellow and the stage win.
It was a cobbled victory that his teammate Tom Boonen would have been proud of and the Belgian was there to congratulate Martin, who was in floods of tears after taking his first-ever yellow jersey. “It was the first time for me that I was preparing for a goal that was such long distance. From November on, after the season break, I was focused on this week in the Tour. I was really sad after missing it in the prologue and also in these days but the story turns now into this. I didn’t expect it,” said a grinning Martin.
“Tom gave me a call this morning to motivate me. He’s never done this before so it was a special sign. Then Eddy Merckx motivates me on the start line, the king of Belgium motivates me in the morning. Obviously I had to win today.”
After the bitter disappointment of missing out in the time trial, Martin had earmarked the cobbled stage as another chance to move into yellow, after reconnoitring it earlier in the year with his teammates. The evening before the stage he was adamant that he would come up trumps today, telling his team that he was targeting the stage win. “Today I was really motivated and I also knew that I am one of the best here. I think yesterday was harder but today's stage suited me better, so I could play with my power. I’m more a classics rider than a climber,” he said.
“I was here two days for training and I knew that I could make it to the last kilometre, which was a little more technical with the cobbles and the hard left hander. My goal was the last corner and somehow I made it. It really surprised me that I was able to make it back on because I was really on the limit after the flat.”
With the team car trapped behind, the puncture on the Fontain-au-Tertre sector of cobbles had most convinced that the German’s stage hopes were all but up. Even Martin himself believed that he’d lost it, and the added challenge on riding a bike that was set up for someone three inches shorter didn’t help him, but he didn’t give up.
“I had to change to Matteo Trentin’s bike. I was sitting too high and the breaks were the opposite way. I didn’t even expect to finish this race in the front group,” he explained. “On the last five km, I just realised that I would finish in the front group. Chris was still there, which surprised me, and to take the yellow I had to attack. Somehow I found the right moment and everybody was looking to each other. I could get a good gap and I made it to the finish. I don’t know how.”
The focus turns now to retaining the jersey for as long as possible. So far, we have seen it change hands four times in four days, and Martin hopes to end that statistic by taking it into the Pyrenees next week.
“The goal is now to keep it until the first rest day,” he said. “There are a few hard finals coming but normally I should be able to do this and stay in front. Then we’ve got the team time trial where we are also one of the favourite teams, so I’m pretty sure that we have a fair chance of holding it until the first rest day.”