It wasn't the hot seat Tony Martin had in mind, but Katusha-Alpecin press officer Philippe Maertens had carefully prepared a contingency plan in the event of disappointment after the stage 1 time trial of the Tour de France in Düsseldorf. 300 metres past the finish line, having come home eight seconds down on winner Geraint Thomas (Sky), the world time trial champion sheltered from the rain in a doorway while a melee of television cameras and microphones intruded on his dismay.
As the Grand Départ came to Germany for the first time in thirty years, Martin was the man most likely to provide home cheer for the masses who flanked the rain-soaked parcours. Not for the first time, however, he missed out on claiming the maillot jaune in his speciality on the opening day of the Tour. After placing second on the corresponding stage in Utrecht two years ago and in the Rotterdam prologue in 2010, Martin had to settle for fourth place on this occasion.
"I'm totally on the limit. I still can't really speak," Martin said, his breath still heavy more than five minutes after he had crossed the line. "The TT itself was ok for me. The corners in the rain broke my rhythm little bit but it's the same for everybody. That's absolutely ok. I'm 8 seconds behind Geraint. I have to analyse it."
Martin rode the time trial on a bike whose livery had been designed by Ralf Hütter of electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk, who were, incidentally, due to play a free concert in Düsseldorf on Saturday evening. As he hurtled around the course on Saturday afternoon, meanwhile, Martin's soundtrack was a wall of raucous sound from the home support.
"It was absolutely amazing, it was such a big motivation for me," Martin said. "I couldn't hear my radio, it was so loud. Everybody was shouting for me. That's the big thing I take from here and with the rest, that's sport. I have to live with it."
Two years ago, Martin made amends for missing out on the opening day by winning into Roubaix on stage 4 and wearing the maillot jaune for three days, but the disappointment of losing out on home roads may not be as readily digested. "There's still three weeks to go and still a few goals to reach, but first of all, I have to analyse this," Martin said.
The time trial was run off in steady rain, and the treacherous conditions produced numerous crashes, including the falls that ended the races of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Ion Izaguirre (Bahrain-Merida). Many of the general classification contenders opted to tackle the parcours relatively conservatively, but Martin and the men chasing yellow in Düsseldorf rather than in Paris had no such luxury. Asked if he felt he had made any made any errors during his ride, Martin paused to think and then shook his head slowly.
"No, not really. I mean I was on the limit in the last four kilometres but that's how it has to be," Martin said. "I missed the power a little bit in the last two kilometres, but I think that's also normal in such a small TT. You give everything from the start and then you have to see how far you can go. I missed the last two kilometres, when I couldn't accelerate anymore. But that's TT. That's racing."
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.