BEIJING (VN) — Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) on Wednesday delivered on his promise to try to win the Tour of Beijing for the second year in a row, but this time without a time trial.
Martin, who won the debut edition last year thanks to gains made in the opening time trial, attacked late in the three-climb, 126km second stage to win the day and grab a small, but commanding overall lead.
The German attacked a seven-man group over the day’s final second-category climb with 26km to go and he used his two-time time trial world champion legs to good use to drive home a 46-second victory.
With time bonuses, he carries a 50-second lead to Francesco Gavazzi (Astana) going into Wednesday’s uphill finale at the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China.
“It was an amazing day. I didn’t expect to win, but I said I wanted to try,” Martin said. “I knew I had to attack because I am not so good in the sprint. It was a risk, but it was worth it.”
The hilly stage, which also included a first-category climb and a third-second climb over the rugged Xi Mountains west of Beijing, was hard from the gun.
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) attacked on the lower slopes of the Cat. 1 Gad Ya Kou climb midway through the stage to put everyone on alert. The Giro d’Italia champion, who opened his 2012 season with the Tour Down Under in January, still has gas in his legs.
“We wanted to make the race hard today. I attacked to open things up. Others reacted and we put Dan (Martin) into the front group, so I could sit back and not do anything else,” Hesjedal told VeloNews. “This is a WorldTour race. There are a lot of points up for grabs. Everyone’s racing. It was hard today.”
Hesjedal’s accelerations quickly spit overnight leader Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) out the back and set up teammate Daniel Martin, who earned the best climber’s jersey prize after leading over the first two climbs.
Joining the two Martins at the front were Gavazzi, Ronaldo Nocentini (Ag2r La Mondiale), Eros Capecchi (Liquigas), Tomasz Marczynski (Vacansoleil-DCM), Tom Jelte Slagter (Rabobank) and Rafal Majka (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank).
Another chase group formed about a minute back, featuring Hesjedal, Rui Costa (Movistar), Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) and another dozen riders.
The lead group hit the final Cat. 2 nursing a promising lead when Nocentini attacked, opening the door for Tony Martin to make his move. At the finish line, Nocentini admitted that they blew it in the chase group.
“We were asleep at the wheel. No one wanted to work and Martin is very strong,” Nocentini told VeloNews. “I attacked first and then Martin followed me. He was like a cannonball. He left us all.”
Also disappointed was 2008 Olympic champion Sánchez, who was hoping to have a chance to repeat his golden run in Thursday’s third stage, which ends on the same Olympic course where he struck gold four years ago.
“With nearly a minute on everyone, Martin has pretty much won the race,” Sánchez said. “He was very strong today. We saw him attacking early in the stage and he made it across to that front group. Tomorrow’s stage is not so hard, so it’s difficult to imagine Martin losing the jersey.”
The second Tour of Beijing continues Thursday with the 162.5km third stage from Metougou to the Badaling Great Wall. The course tackles the same course as Wednesday, ascending the climbs in opposite direction. After dropping back down to the valley floor, the course loops through Changping before climbing to the spectacular Badaling section of the Great Wall.
Martin realizes he’s in the driver’s seat to claim his second stage race of the 2012 season to go along with his win at the Tour of Belgium.
“With the advantage I have now, I know I can just follow wheels and the others have to attack me,” he said. “I am very happy to have this jersey. It’s a big surprise because I knew it would be hard to win again. I know I have a strong team to support me.”