Portrait: Tony Martin

Consider the abilities of Tony Martin: a full range of talents that might accurately be described as “many and varied”. Not content with a place among the all-time greats of the chrono, or performing as a diesel capable of holding off a 200-strong pursuing pack, hour after hour, purely by his own efforts, Martin now fancies the Northern Classics gig. From where does this latest desire stem? What claim can a metronomic tester have to glory in the most chaotic of professional cycling’s many challenges? Funny you should ask. “I’ve been thinking about it seriously for a year, and after the stage win at the Tour de France, on the cobbles, I was pretty sure that I should try now,” he tells a horde of journalists descended upon Calpe for Etixx-Quick Step’s pre-season training camp. “This is the right time for me. “It’s now my ninth season as a professional. It’s time for me to set new goals, to get new motivation; to change training for it. I’m really looking forward now to the start of the season.” Martin is calm, but not cold; serious, but not without humour; direct, without being abrupt. He gives the impression of one who files press gatherings beneath the heading “necessary”, but he is courteous, and as disposed to dodging questions as he is to shirking turns, which is to say, not at all. He will race this Spring without expectation: at 30, and in his ninth season as a professional, he will travel to Flanders and to Roubaix in search only of experience. (Is Roubaix easier than Flanders, he is asked. “I don’t know,” comes the reply. “Ask me when I’ve done it.”) His first duty will be to the team and a roster of proven talent. [drupal {"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"15331","attributes":{"alt":"Men, white, thirties, four, sat in line on sofa, checking mobile phones, racing cyclists, Tony Martin, Stijn Vandenbergh, Tom Boonen, Marcel Kittel, pic: BrakeThrough Media","class":"media-image","height":"459","style":"width: 689px; height: 459px;","title":"Tony Martin, Stijn Vandenbergh, Tom Boonen, Marcel Kittel, pic: BrakeThrough Media","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"689"}}] “It makes life even harder,” Martin says of competing for places with Etixx-Quick Step’s galaxy of stars. “First of all, you have to qualify for the big races. You have to fight in February or March to be in the team for Flanders and Roubaix, but that also makes it interesting, and when you’re in the team on the start line, you know you’re in the strongest team for these type of races, especially for a guy like me who has no experience. It’s nice to learn from them. I can’t wait until the first races in February.” Time flies and Het Nieuwsblad will soon be upon us. Martin has spent the first of the season’s engagements in a different role, serving in the lead-out train of old friend and new recruit Marcel Kittel in the Dubai desert, where he piloted his countryman to two stage wins and overall victory. Kittel is EQS’s new marquee sprinter, a direct replacement for Mark Cavendish. Martin says the team bus and even the lead-out train will be quieter without the Manxman, even if his hotel room will not: Kittel is an old friend, and he describes their accommodation in Calpe as “the German room”. Later in the season, he will ride the Tour as preparation for the Olympic Games in Rio and will hope to show he is “back in business in the big time trials” at the World Championships in Qatar “after losing so hard last year.” Martin’s performance against the clock at the World Championships in Richmond last year was an aberration, but few of the world’s best time triallists turned up in any meaningful sense that day. Perhaps the guard is changing. Martin foresees different contenders for the Olympic and World TT titles. For the former, he believes Chris Froome represents the greatest threat; for the flatter Worlds course, he predicts a more typical range of contenders, including Fabian Cancellara and Tom Dumoulin. Martin hopes to contend for both, and will use the Tour de France as preparation. [drupal {"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"15332","attributes":{"alt":"Racing cyclist, blue jersey, white helmet, sunglasses, close-up, Tony Martin, pic: BrakeThroughMedia","class":"media-image","height":"459","style":"width: 689px; height: 459px;","title":"Tony Martin, pic: BrakeThroughMedia","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"689"}}] Martin has a unique profile: at once a throwback and a one-off. He occupies a solid place in the affection of the cycling public: the unimaginably powerful tester, grinding a 58-11 gear; the indefatigable soloist, defying a Grand Tour peloton; the brave, but luckless combatant, broken, but never defeated. Post an image of Martin on any of 1’s social media channels and the effect is an almost instant outpouring of goodwill. He is popular with the cognoscenti, but is he aware of his profile? “Yeah, I am,” he says, with an embarrassed smile. “Somehow, the fans, especially in England, love me. I don’t know why – maybe because I’m not a usual rider. I win races in special ways, I lose races in special ways. When I’m on the ground, most of the time I get up and fight back. Maybe it makes me interesting; maybe people like this.” He ranks his silver medal performance at the London Games in 2012 among his best three. If the choice seems surprising (most champions hold second place in contempt), then there are mitigating circumstances: Martin was still recovering from a wrist broken weeks earlier at the Tour de France. Tony and the Tour are a fractious combination. He crashed out of last year’s race in yellow, a jersey claimed alone, and in typically courageous style, two days earlier, after four tantalising days in second place on GC. He will not allow his previous bad luck to deter him from returning to the Tour this year, even in an Olympic year. Martin has coped well with a winter of change. Rolf Aldag, the team’s former technical director, and long-time Martin confederate, has jumped ship to join Cavendish and a host of his former HTC-Highroad team-mates at Dimension Data. And Martin is even experimenting with a new position on his time-trial bike. [drupal {"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"15333","attributes":{"alt":"Racing cyclist, blue kit, white helmet, time-trial bike, Tony Martin, pic: BrakeThrough Media","class":"media-image","height":"459","style":"width: 689px; height: 459px;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"689"}}] Etixx-Quick Step will send a mixed squad to the Volta ao Algarve tomorrow, with Martin placed amid Classics heavyweights Tom Boonen, Zdenek Stybar and Niki Terpstra, but also alongside Kittel, who will seek glory on two flat stages. Twice, he has claimed the GC in Portugal, but there is no pressure on him to do so a third time. “The situation with the team is more than fine,” Martin says. He has just started his fifth season with Patrick Lefevere’s squad, where he occupies a characteristically Martin-esque position among the galacticos: a three-time world time-trial champion and Paris-Nice winner, still likely to be mentioned in the second breath, after talisman Boonen and poster boy Kittel. A cobbled trophy or Olympic gold medal might change that. Martin has a realistic chance of both, even if he denies it. There would be few more popular winners, were he to do so, among the cognoscenti, at least.
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