After Copenhagen in 2011, the Netherlands in 2012 and Italy in 2013, Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) has his eyes set on a fourth straight time trial world champion’s jersey in 2014, which he describes, categorically, as “my big objective for the season”.
“After they changed the time trial course in Ponferrada” - originally an uphill finish and now, after a change of plans and route, much more of a power rider’s course - “I will have a bigger chance, although I’m not sure what my real possibilities are there yet, the route book may not be clear,” Martin said during the Omega Pharma-Quick Step training camp in Calpe, Spain. Told by journalists who have seen the altered course that it was rolling rather than hilly, the German cracked a cautious smile.
But 2014 has plenty of opportunities for Martin before September’s big challenge. “There are good time trial stages for me in races like the Vuelta al País Vasco, Tour of Romandie and Tirreno,” he said. In February, he will also return to the Tour of the Algarve, where he has twice won before and, riding against Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), he could see the sparks fly.
Martin will also be looking at the Tour de France mid-race time trial, which he won last year and in 2011, though he is not pleased that “there is only one time trial in there. It’s a shame, I think the Tour de France winner has to prove himself as a time triallist as well as at everything else.”
Not riding the Tour though and opting out altogether “is not something I think about, the Tour is too important for that".
The main changes in the 28-year-old’s season compared to 2013, in fact, are a start in the Tour of Dubai, and in the Milan-San Remo Classic, “which I am curious to race. I have only ever seen it on TV and my main aim there is will be as a team worker.”
With a large number of week-long stage races already in his palmarès, ranging from the Tour of Beijing to the Eneco Tour and Paris-Nice, it would illogical for Martin to rule himself out of a crack at the overall in other events, too. Whilst he is defending champion of the Tour of Belgium, which he won in 2013 and 2012, the overall of País Vasco, where he finished fifth in 2012 and has taken the time trial stage on several occasions, is one possible goal for this spring, as well.
“I’ve done País Vasco several times, and it’s really like a goal for me, even if it’s always raining there [in the Basque Country]. It suits me more than other events and it’s got a nice time trial,” he said.
Quite apart from himself, with Tom Boonen’s return to full strength, Mark Cavendish a co-leader and Rigoberto Urán stepping up as their GC contender for the Giro along with Michel Kwiatkowski’s steady progression in the ranks of the overall, too, Omega Pharma-Quick Step have a lot of cards to play in 2014, Martin agrees.
“It’s good but it’s a lot of pressure,” Martin said, “every day we will be working flat out and if you want everything sometimes you get nothing. So there will be a lot of work to do.”
The world championship team time trial, for which Omega Pharma-Quick Step are also defending champions for a second year running remains a major target as well. “Orica are one of the biggest contenders, so too are Sky and BMC. I’m optimistic we can be as strong as last year.”
In the mid-to-long-term, the hour record may become a target, but “it’s not something I would think about in the past. Now though, everybody’s talking about it, it needs a lot of preparation, not something you can do mid-way between other big objectives.”
“I don’t want to say when, but it could be a nice goal. If the moment is good then maybe I’ll try it, but further down the line. For now Cancellara is doing it and all the pressure’s on him.”
“As a former track rider, I’ve got a lot of experience that could come in useful, but I’ve no idea of what kind of power output I’d need, for example. If I do do it, and that’s not decided, it’s a long way ahead still.”