Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) won the overall for the second time in three years after a gritty climb on Saturday’s queen stage left him within striking distance in the concluding individual time trial, the discipline in which he is the defending double world champion. Finishing a massive 1:07 ahead of teammate Michal Kwiatkowski, the pair gave OPQS a one-two lock-out in a general classification in which the top eight positions were occupied by the top eight finishers in the ITT.
If the first two stages had, at first glance, looked perfectly set up for Mark Cavendish to add to a 2013 victory tally which already stands at five, that proved emphatically not to be the case as it was Blanco rather than OPQS who swept both days. The opening stage was a typical flat trundle but with a sting in the tail. A difficult roundabout and a long uphill drag to the finish shredded the sprint trains’ organisation, and in a chaotic finale Paul Martens snuck off the front to take victory ahead of RadioShack’s Tiago Machado and his own team’s main sprinter Theo Bos, with Cavendish sloping in sixth. A pro since 2005, it was only the German’s third win in his sixth season with the team formerly known as Rabobank.
The second stage offered possibilities for a determined breakaway, with cat 3 and cat 2 climbs early on and a lumpy finish, but the peloton was not to be denied. Again, the trains of Blanco and OPQS were prominent on the run-in, but with Cavendish suffering a problem with his chain, Bos put in a decisive burst that allowed him to celebrate well before the line despite a last-gasp lunge by RadioShack’s Giacomo Nizzolo. The ten-second win bonus leapfrogged the Dutch sprinter over teammate Martens to take the yellow jersey.
Bos’ leadership of the race was short-lived, however, as the competition for the GC kicked off over the last two stages. Sergio Henao proved strongest on the queen stage finishing at the summit of Alto do Malhao. It was the third consecutive year that a Sky rider has claimed victory on the race’s signature climb (after Steve Cummings in 2011 and overall winner Richie Porte last year).
With two ascents of the Malhao to be negotiated, a five-man break led over the top first time around but were swept up in good time for the decisive climb. Movistar’s Rui Costa made the first big move. He was quickly joined by Henao and RadioShack’s Tiago Machado briefly latched on before the Sky man decided to put the hammer down. Machado quickly disappeared, with Costa also falling inexorably backwards as neither could match the Colombian’s solo attack.
Henao powered on alone to take an impressive solo victory by three seconds over Costa, despite taking a wrong turn shortly before the finish which caused a brief moment of panic. Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) was third. Significantly, however, Tony Martin finished only 18 seconds back to go into the final test against the clock just 28 seconds behind Henao.
That gap was never going to be enough on a 34.8km up-then-down course which suited the double world champion perfectly. However, Henao put up a brave fight to finish 14th, albeit 3:15 down, sending him tumbling to 12th overall. Martin blew away the field, averaging 46.2kph as he clocked 45:09. Kwiatkowski finished second both on the stage and overall, with RadioShack’s Jesse Sergent third just ahead of Westra, who claimed the final place on the GC podium. So dominant was Martin on the day that no one finished within a minute of him and only seven men were within two minutes.
Analysis & opinion
As ever this was a good race with plenty of excitement, although it was a shame the time trial thoroughly trumped the Malhao in terms of determining the GC. Henao deserved better than to slip out of the top ten after his thrilling solo effort.
OPQS, Blanco and RadioShack will have come out of this race pleased with their long weekend’s work. Although Mark Cavendish failed to win a stage, a one-two finish overall is always a good result. The absence of a rival such as 2012 winner Richie Porte who could offer a dual threat in both climbing and time trial mode always meant Tony Martin was the hot favourite, but if his form in the ITT was little surprise, the way he minimised his losses on the Malhao climb was a clear indication of strong early season form.
Blanco will be delighted to have won both sprints. Given the uncertainty over the team’s future and the need to attract sponsorship going forward, it has been no surprise that they have come out of the gates full tilt in the early part of the season. After Tom-Jelte Slagter’s overall victory at the Tour Down Under, wins for Paul Martens and Theo Bos here will have helped the team’s cause no end.
RadioShack placed men sixth (Tiago Machado), seventh (Jesse Sergent) and ninth (Andreas Kloden), a pleasing result as they seek to put a nightmare 2012 behind them. 24-year old New Zealander Sergent continues to progress and impress in his time trial speciality.
Sky will perhaps be slightly disappointed that their Colombian climbing twins Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao could finish no higher than 10th and 12th – with time trialling their obvious weak spot – but then this needs to be placed in the context of the team’s Grand Tour plans for the year. Last year both finished in the top ten at the Giro but with Bradley Wiggins earmarked as team leader for Italy and Chris Froome for France perhaps their big aim for the season is the Vuelta in September?
Finally, a nod of congratulation to Sky neo-pro Josh Edmondson. The 20-year old British climber was an impressive seventh on the Malhao, just seven seconds behind teammate Henao as he crossed the line alongside riders of the stature of Kloden and Denis Menchov. He finished 16th overall. One to watch in the future, for sure, maybe even on the roads of his native Yorkshire in the 2014 Tour de France?
1. Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) 15:36:26
2. Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +0:58
3. Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:59
4. Denis Menchov (Katusha) +1:21
5. Rui Costa (Movistar) +1:26
6. Tiago Machado (RadioShack-Leopard) +1:30
7. Jesse Sergent (RadioShack-Leopard) +1:40
8. Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar) +1:45
9. Andreas Kloden (RadioShack-Leopard) +1:53
10. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) +2:31