Tony Martin‘s rollercoaster ride in this year’s Tour de France ended when he motored away from the peloton and won the cobbled fourth stage to Cambrai, France. Making it even sweeter, the German took over the race lead from Chris Froome (Sky) and pulled on the yellow jersey for the first time in his career.
Martin had aimed to win the opening time trial in Utrecht on Sunday, but fell short. The next day he had his chance to take the yellow jersey after helping to push an escape with Etixx-Quick-Step team-mate Mark Cavendish.
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If Cavendish had finished in the top three places then Martin would have finished the day on top of the general classification. Instead, Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) slipped by the fading Manxman and took enough bonus seconds to earn the yellow top for himself.
“An emotional rollercoaster? Yes it was,” said Martin after today’s stage.
“To miss the yellow by a few seconds, I was upset. I came close but I never had it, so the pressure was getting more and more.
“I knew the chance was there, but it was obviously not my stage yesterday. Today, I was really motivated. I knew that I am one of the best here. Today’s stage suited me much better to play with my power. I’m more of a classics rider than a climber.”
Martin has won the world championship time trial three times, Tour stages, the Paris-Nice overall, but he has never before wore the famous yellow jersey.
He earned it in style. He powered over the 13.3 kilometres of cobbles, split over seven secteurs, and remained with the overall favourites and stage rivals like Paris-Roubaix winner John Degenkolb. When the moment was right, three kilometres out, he pushed out of the pack and held three seconds at the line over Degenkolb. With the time bonus, he now leads the overall by 12 seconds over Froome.
“After having to change bikes, everyone must have thought I was on my limit – which I was. When I attacked, everyone was on their hands and knees,” Martin said. “It was just the right moment.”
Froome said, “Congratulations to Tony Martin for his late attack – he had been so close to the yellow jersey for a few days that nobody could say he didn’t deserve it this time.
“Losing the yellow jersey at this stage is no big deal – there is still a long way to go, and as a time trial specialist Tony is not going to be there in the mountains.”
With flat stages, a small hilltop finish Saturday and a time trial on Sunday, Martin should be able to hold the jersey for five more days and into the rest day on Monday.
“The goal is to keep the jersey until Monday,” Martin added. “We have a few hard finals, but normally, I should be able to do those, to stay in front. Then we have the team time trial, where we are also one of the favourite teams. I’m pretty sure we have a fair chance to hold on to it through Monday.”