BEIJING (VN) — New world TT champ Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) kept his time trial winning streak intact with a solid victory Wednesday to open the Tour of Beijing.
Strong winds and some heavy urban smog made for tough conditions on a flat, straight-forward 11.3km course around Beijing’s Olympic Park to make for an interesting debut of the five-day Beijing tour.
Martin proved once again he’s the man to beat in time trials, knocking back David Millar (Garmin-Cervelo) by 17 seconds. Four Brits rounded out the top-5, with Alex Dowsett (Sky) stopping the clock 24 seconds slower for third. Sky’s Chris Froome and Steve Cummings were fourth and fifth, respectively as Sky put three in the top five.
Martin admitted he felt the weight of the rainbow jersey when he started last in a field of 147 riders.
“I felt the pressure of the rainbow jersey. Everyone was looking to me,” Martin said. “It’s a big honor for me to win in the rainbow jersey and to win my first race since winning the rainbow jersey takes a little pressure off now.”
The 26-year-old German has been unstoppable in the TTs this season, winning seven major time trials, including stages at the Tour de France and Vuelta a España en route to the world title in Copenhagen.
Martin said he didn’t celebrate too much after the worlds because he said he’s especially motivated to race in China this week.
“I decided a long time ago that I wanted to do this race. I have never been to China before and I don’t know if I can win. It’s not about the victory, I want to make a nice race and enjoy the country a little bit.”
Riders rode traditional road bike set-ups after teams decided it was too far to haul time trial frames, wheels and aero bars and helmets all the way to China. Teams were allotted 800kg each to bring equipment, but there was an agreement to leave the expensive TT rigs at home.
“I changed my position a little bit,” Martin said. “You cannot have the same position you can on a time trial bike. I really didn’t know what my performance would be on a normal road bike. It’s a big honor for me to win this first race in China. It’s a big day for me.”
Millar said he was surprised to cross the line second, but said he wasn’t surprised that it was Martin who beat him.
“I had no expectations at all, because my head’s been disengaged since the worlds,” Millar said. “I didn’t think I would do anything out there.”
For Dowsett, the reigning British time trial champion, the Tour of Beijing is his first World Tour event of his season dominated by second-tier European and North American events.
“Third to riders like Martin and Millar, there’s not much more I could expect,” he said. “For the overall? Both of those guys are better climbers than me. We have three in top five, so we can play the numbers game.”
With a relatively easy parcours over the next four stages, Martin is in the driver’s seat to take aim for overall victory.
Friday’s “queen stage” features three first-category climbs, but the question is how hard will the weary, end-of-season peloton want to push the pace?
“I don’t know how my climbing legs are because I haven’t been in the mountains for three or four weeks,” said Martin, who pulled out of the Vuelta a España after the second week to prepare for Copenhagen. “People say who wins today can win the overall, but there could be some surprises. We do not know these roads or any of the climbs. We have a motivated team here, so we will ride to try to win.”
The 137km second stage from Beijing to Men Tou Gou shouldn’t present too much difficulty for Martin.
After starting in front of the Bird’s Nest stadium, the course loops north of Beijing before hitting three passages on a 21km circuit. A third-category climb is tackled four times, with the final passage at 14.5km from the line, nothing that should slow down the sprinters in the bunch.