Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) announced his return to competition and fine form by taking the five-stage Tour of Belgium. He won stage four’s individual time trial in a fashion befitting the current wearer of the rainbow jersey in this discipline, took the leader’s red jersey and maintained his lead with a flourish in the final queen stage.
After taking three consecutive sprint stages, Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) [aping Sagan – Ed] won the sprints jersey, most combative rider was Colombian Leonardo Duque (Cofidis), Pieter Serry (Topsport-Vlaanderen Mercator) was best young rider, while RusVelo were top team.
Here’s how the race unfolded.
Stage 1: Mechelen to Buggenhout, 162km
German sprinter Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) won the opening stage in a photo-finish – his eighth victory of the season – ahead of Danilo Napolitano (Acqua & Sapone) and third-placed Kenny Van Hummel (Vacansoleil-DCM).
A group with riders from eight different teams had gotten away early in the stage but never gained more than three minutes on the peloton. 15km from the finish, just as the peloton was about to absorb the break, three of the eight attacked. But that trio too was back in the pack with 7km to go.
Then Kenneth Vanbilsen (An Post-Sean Kelly) launched a solo counter-attack, but the sprinters teams quickly shut down his bid for glory and the stage ended in the inevitable bunch sprint, won by Greipel.
Stage 2: Lochristi to Knokke-Heist, 169.5km
Greipel took his second stage victory, again beating Napolitano – shades of Groundhog Day – this time on a stiff uphill ramp to the finish. Astana’s Jacopo Guarnieri (Astana) got the jump on Van Hummel for third.
The breakaway of five was established after 25km of racing and built a lead of five minutes only to be slowly dragged back by the sprinters’ teams. With just 3km to go, Ramon Sinkeldam (Argos-Shimano), soloed off only to be captured a kilometre later by the Lotto-Belisol-led charging pack.
Stage 3: Knokke-Heist to Beveren, 163km
Greipel took his third consecutive stage ahead of – yes, you’ve guessed it – Napolitano once again, with Adam Blythe (BMC) in third place.
Another quintet went clear after 30km and managed to open a gap of four minutes but the peloton had matters well in hand and they were slowly reeled in like fish on a line. Maxim Belkov (Katusha) wriggled free only to be caught within the last 10km.
This time, Greipel sprinted from further out but was able to maintain his sprint to the line. Afterwards he confirmed:
We are here to refine our sprint preparation for the Tour. On day one it was really good, yesterday we lost each other a little bit, but today we still had all the boys together a kilometre from the finish.
Stage 4: Turnhout to Arendonk, 20.5km individual time trial
Tony Martin confirmed his comeback in emphatic style with a dominant performance in the individual time trial, finishing the flat, straight course 46 seconds faster than runner-up Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) and teammate Niki Terpstra who was third, a further six seconds back.
Martin was clearly delighted with this victory:
It took a while but now I’m satisfied. It was hard – a windy time trial, maybe not one of the best of my career but it was important to break the ice. We have a really strong team. We will try to fight for the GC tomorrow. There are a few guys we have to watch.
Tomorrow it will be a battle. It’s a hard stage, but I feel very good and I will try for it, surrounded by a great team able to ride without fear in the wind. The guys here know every metre of tomorrow’s race and they are really motivated.
Here’s how he did it:
Stage 5: Clavier to Engis, 212km
Tony Martin wrapped up the overall and his first stage race victory of the season with a seventh place on the difficult Ardennes Classic-like stage which was won by the promising young Colombian Carlos Betancur (Acqua & Sapone), ahead of cyclocross star Kevin Pauwels (Sunweb-Revor) and with Sergey Firsanov (RusVelo) third.
This time it was a nine-man breakaway which successfully formed after 40km of racing and included Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM), Carlos Barredo (Rabobank), Romain Zingle (Cofidis), Betancur, cyclocrosser Sven Nys (Landbouwkrediet-Euphony), Pieter Serry (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator), Dmitriy Fofonov (Astana), Maxime Vantomme (Katusha) and friend of VeloVoices Amael Moinard (BMC).
Barredo had started the day just 60 seconds behind Martin who took himself to the front of the pack and worked tirelessly to pull them back. On the run-in on the steep climb of the Rue Des Fagnes, Belgian champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC) had a dig which was easily countered by Pauwels but it was Betancur who took the sprint for the line with Martin not far behind.
Afterwards Martin explained:
The whole stage was pretty hard, as expected. I think the profile had 16 really hard climbs from the Ardennes Classics, so we knew it would be a difficult stage. But we really had a strong team here. We controlled the race right from the beginning, and then in the final I took the risk to stay in front, so that the gap in front couldn’t get far away. It was really hard, but I have to say thank you to the whole team. The whole week they always protected me. I am really happy for this team that we could win this race here.
Tony Martin’s back and he’s hitting top form ahead of the Criterium du Dauphine and Tour de France. Andre Greipel too seems to have his ducks in a row to take on Cavendish at the Tour.
Scan down the order and, with the possible exception of PhilGil, there’s the names of riders vying for places to ride in support of their Tour leaders. They’ll have done their cause no harm.
At VeloVoices Towers, we were looking out for Baptiste Planckaert (Lanbouwkrediet-Euphony) who finished 70th, 14:58 off the pace and was 20th-placed best young rider. No doubt this race will have provided him with valuable experience in his quest to move up the ranks.
1. Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) 16:51:28
2. Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:43
3. Carlos Barredo (Rabobank) +1:02
4. Sergey Firsanov (RusVelo) +1:11
5. Andriy Grivko (Astana) +1:26
6. Francesco Reda (Acqua & Sapone) +1:38
7. Philippe Gilbert (BMC) +1:45
8. Simon Spilak (Katusha) +1:47
9. Manuel Quinziato (BMC) +1:50
10. Maarten Wynants (Rabobank) +1:58