Sunday, 13 March 2011

Martin takes overall victory in the "Race to the Sun"

25 year old HTC-Rider Tony Martin was branded a Ray of Hope for German cycling following his overal victory on the final day of the Paris-Nice. Nicknamed the "Race to the Sun" it seemed more like a race to the rain as the 135 man strong peloton made its way along the 124km route around Nice.

Beating compatriat Andreas Kloeden, winner 11 years ago, Martin made history books as only the 3rd German to win the famed race. With most of his rivals conceding defeat and accepting their GC standings, no challenge came for the young rider as the race headed towards the rain-soaked Promenade des Anglais. With Kloeden finishing 36 seconds behind Martin, Britain's Bradley Wiggins finished third, 41 seconds adrift.

With the contenders for final victory above all trying to limit risks, boldness paid off again: the boldest of them all Thomas Voeckler, made it two after his 4th stage victory in Belleville, the Europcar leader becoming the first Frenchman to win two Paris-Nice stages since Laurent Jalabert in 1997. In the front all day, he took most risks in the treacherous descents of the stage to win on his own ahead of Italian prospect Diego Ulissi, his final breakaway companion.

Andriy Grivko (Astana) was the first to attack at 3km but his efforts were reined in before the first climb, the Cote de Duranus (Km 33.5), where French champion Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Linus Gerdemann (Leopard-Trek) staged a bid to attack. As they tackled the descent, a group of 11 emerged: David Lopez-Garcia (Movistar), Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Matthew Busche (RadioShack), Matteo Carrara (Vancasoleil), Laurent Didier (Saxo Bank), Julien El Fares (Cofidis), Gorka Izagirre (Euskaltel), Diego Ulissi (Lampre), Remi Pauriol (FDJ), Voeckler and Gerdemann.

On the Col de Chateauneuf (2nd cat, km 55.5), Pauriol led the way to add seven points to comfort his jersey. Securing it on the next ascent, the Col de Calaison the 2nd category climb saw Gerdemann, followed by Vinokourov retire. The gap, which reached a maximum of 3:10, was 2:50 at the summit; exactly the time difference between Tony Martin and Matteo Carrara in the GC at the start of the day.

As the break headed for La Turbie, Pauriol, Busche and Didier lost ground, leaving six riders in the lead. At the back, the peloton was also losing several men leaving only some 20 riders in the chase, including yellow jersey holder Tony Martin and all the leading contenders for final victory.

At the summit of La Turbie (1st cat, km 94), the favourites had sliced the gap down to 1:25 but the lead rose again in the Col d’Eze as Voeckler and Ulissi parted company with their former companions (km 104). At the peak, the Italian was first and the two maintained a short 16 seconds lead over their nearest chasers.

With the peloton still 1:30 adrift, and some ten seconds behind Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel), assisted by Izagirre, who waited for his leader to try and help him onto the podium in the finale, only the Olympic champion, challenged Martin in the day’s climbs or descents. Sanchez's move was ultimately fruitless but he still finished fourth to dislodge France’s Jean-Christophe Peraud from the top five.

Stage victory now looked certain for one of the two escapees and Voeckler was the boldest of the duo, attacking on the descent to Nice never to be seen again. The group including Tony Martin crossed the line 1:22 behind, crowning one of the most promising riders in the world’s peloton.

Rising star Martin made clear his goal following his win: "It’s a fantastic start of the season, which gives me so much confidence for the next races. I’ll be ready for the season. For sure it’s my biggest goal to have a good Tour de France. I hope I can do it. I think I’m ready for it."

Proving his worth as the runaway leader since the 27-kms individual time trial in Aix-en-Provence, he strengthened his position as a time trialist, and showed that he will be a man to watch throughout the season.

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