After three straight gold medals, Tony Martin’s disappointment at having to settle for silver in the UCI Road World Championships individual time trial was more than visible at the medallists press conference.
Martin had taken a narrow victory - by just 5.37 seconds - against Taylor Phinney in Valkenburg two years ago. But that was on terrain that did no favours whatseover to the German time trial specialist. On Ponferrada’s more rolling course, his chances of victory seemed much greater - and his defeat, therefore, was perhaps harder to take.
Ten victories this season, including two stage wins in the Tour and victory in the Vuelta time trial, would have been enough to make Martin the automatic favourite for Wednesday. Factor in his near-unbeaten record in middle-to-long distance time trialling over the last three years, take Fabian Cancellara out of the equation and it’s clear why Martin stood head and shoulders above the rest as top contender. (In fact to find a defeat of Martin at that distance you’d have to go back to the 2012 Olympics - again by Wiggins.)
But after Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s bronze medal in the team time trial on Sunday - itself a setback - Martin had hinted that he was not going well when he said he was "not at 100 percent."
"I’ve already said this before, I’m not a machine," the 29-year-old said, "I knew that almost everybody expected me to win, but I always said that Wiggins had a big, big chance."
"I already felt a little bit tired in the team time trial, for sure that’s not the best motivation and for today I was a little tired too. I didn’t have the best condition and that’s the biggest point, I couldn’t battle against Bradley in the finale of this race."
Martin clocked the fastest time in the first, flatter segment of the 47 kilometre course, but from that point onwards, matters went steadily downhill. Wiggins had already crept ahead of the German by the second checkpoint at km 23.2, albeit by just a second, and by the third his advantage had stretched to ten seconds. Come the finish, the gap was an unbridgeable 26 seconds - and for the first time since 2010, when he took bronze behind Fabian Cancellara and David Millar, Martin was facing defeat.
"I think I was missing a bit of freshness," Martin told a small group of reporters as he strode out of the press centre and towards the parking lot - but he refused nonetheless to blame taking part in the Vuelta.
"I did the same preparation as last year, but every year is different and I have to learn. It’s now too close to the race to make a real analysis."
He had no hard feelings towards Wiggins, calling him - in perfect English - "a real gent. He’s always fair and I like him. We’ve always had some good fights, he’s won some races, I’ve won some, today he deserved the win."
Asked if he regretted that Wiggins would not be back in 2015 to defend his new won TT title, Martin answered rather dourly, "Let’s wait, eh?" The German, it seems, is not ruling out a revenge match against the Briton, or as he put it: "You never know."
The shorter distance and the more rolling course, he said, was perhaps a point in Wiggins favour. But the 29-year-old refused to use that as an excuse.
"Sure it was more for him than for me, but it was still OK for me. So in top condition, I would have been closer." But that top condition, in Martin’s case, was lacking. Or as the German put it afterwards, "I think simply he was stronger than me today."
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