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Tony Martin bows out in style at final World Championships time trial

Tony Martin (Germany, on right) talks with Jumbo-Visma teammate Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands) at 2021 UCI Road World Championships after time trial
Tony Martin (Germany, on right) talks with Jumbo-Visma teammate Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands) at 2021 UCI Road World Championships after time trial (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Tony Martin said he rode Sunday’s time trial at the World Championships like any other, but the laser-focus on watts, lines and splits couldn’t entirely keep the emotion from seeping in.

That morning, the 36-year-old German had made the shock announcement that this would mark the end of his career, which has spanned 16 years and nearly 50 victories against the clock.

His very last pedal strokes will come when he represents Germany in the mixed relay event on Wednesday, but for a rider who has won the elite individual world title a record four times, Sunday felt like the true end of the road.

“Actually, I was really emotional for a few seconds on the start ramp. When the speaker called my name, and the crowds were cheering… that was really emotional,” Martin said as he spoke at length about his day and his career in the media zone in Bruges.

“When the clock started to count down, I was in pure race mode and I was 100 per cent concentrated. Then later on, in the last 10km, my director was saying 'go for it! This is the last 10 kilometres of individual time trialling in your career’, so that was also a bit emotional and gave me some free energy. But I was more in time trial mode than goodbye mode – that will come later."

That the 43.3 kilometres between Knokke-Heist and Bruges was no lap of honour was borne out by the result, which was arguably Martin’s best for years. He placed sixth on the day, knocking on the door of a top-five that featured Filippo Ganna, Wout van Aert, Remco, Evenepoel, Kasper Asgreen and Stefan Küng.

There was a time when time trial victories were as routine as breakfast, lunch, and dinner for Tony Martin but even though those days are gone, his ride on Sunday did a certain justice to himself and to the event that has ensured his place in the sport's pantheon of greats.

“It was really, really important,” he said of bowing out with a strong showing. “The World Championships was always my favourite race, and where I always had my biggest victories. I’m really happy to end my career here, in this great atmosphere."

He highlighted the Copenhagen Worlds 2011 as the pick of his four world titles - and of his career as a whole. He beat Bradley Wiggins and Fabian Cancellara by more than a minute that day and went on to make it three straight world titles in Valkenburg and Florence, before adding a joint-record fourth in Doha in 2016.

“I couldn’t go for the medals today I’m still proud I could be there with the best - not the real best, but still close. I’m satisfied. I really enjoyed it," he added.

“I’m really happy my team gave me the chance to end my career as I wished. For me it’s really the perfect surrounding here. It doesn’t matter the result today; it’s just nice to be here, with the fans, with my closest people, and to say goodbye here in Belgium."

'No one cares about safety anymore'

Martin also expanded on the process that lay behind his decision to hang up his wheels, revealing that he effectively made up his mind after a string of crashes at this year’s Tour de France that eventually led to a premature exit on stage 11.

“I wanted to give myself some time to really think about it but after a few weeks the thought was still in my head, and somehow it felt right. For the moment, I do not regret it," he said.

In his Sunday morning statement, Martin spoke of the accumulation of nasty crashes in recent years and touched upon the issue of rider safety. In the aftermath of the time trial, he expanded on the dangers of the sport, speaking with a tone of regret, frustration, and resignation.

“99 per cent of the time, everything goes well, but I started thinking ‘what if it doesn’t go well, and I’m guy who crashes at 70km/h?’ As a young man, maybe you don’t think about it but, especially as a dad, you see all the dangers more and more," he said.

“You also see that no one cares about safety. We still have the same standards as 10 years ago. Really, nothing has changed - nothing. That’s not the sport that I love anymore… Well, the sport I still love, but it’s not the races I love anymore. A lot of the motivation of fighting for more safety is slightly gone now, because most riders don’t seem to care about it. For me, it feels good to escape now, into more of a safe way, especially as a family man. I still hope for riders there will be changes because I don’t want to see bad crashes on TV.”

He won’t miss the crashes, that’s for sure, but what will he miss?

“The thing I will miss most is setting goals and fighting for goals. Being together with my team, Jumbo-Visma, being there as a unit in the races, making big plans, fighting for them, winning together, losing together… that was really great, the last three years, and that will be a big, big point that I will miss.”

Martin will now turn his attention to Wednesday’s mixed relay team time trial, where he’ll line up alongside Max Walscheid, Nikias Arndt, Lisa Brennauer, Lisa Klein, and Mieke Kroger. Afterwards, life will suddenly slow down, but he appears ready for that.

“For the first time in my life, I don’t really have any plans. For the moment, that feels good,” he said.

“I want to enjoy the time at home with my family for a few weeks, then I’ll have a look at what can be the next goals in my life. I have some ideas, for sure, but no decisions have been made. Now for the last fight on Wednesday, and from then on I will enjoy pro cycling from the sidelines. I’m really looking forward to it, and to the new things that will come.” 

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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.