“My my, hey hey, rock and roll is here to stay, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.”
Some cyclists’ careers end with a whimper. They draw out the inevitable, seemingly unable to let go, because there always seems to be someone who will offer them a contract, no matter how small, until eventually they don’t.
Other riders go out with a bang. They see a precipitous decline on the horizon and decide they don’t want to experience it. Say goodbye to the sport before the sport says goodbye to you.
‘It’s a dream’ – Martin wins fairytale gold for Germany in final race of career
6 HOURS AGO
Neither way is “wrong” – who is anyone who has never seen such highs to say otherwise – but the manner in which Tony Martin closed out his career seemed, nonetheless, nigh-on perfect.
Time triallists are, after all, masters of control.
Coincidentally, Martin’s end was not entirely dissimilar to that of the other great tester of the era, Fabian Cancellara. Spartacus’ last race was the Olympic time trial in Rio, in which he rode to the gold medal.
The first part was about being the ultimate individual athlete. Of his 57 race wins (not including the 10 overall titles they contributed to, at the likes of Paris-Nice, Eneco and the Tour of Beijing) exactly 50 of them came in time trials.
When he won from the bunch, though, boy did he do it in style. On stage nine of the 2014 Tour de France, between Gerardmer and Mulhouse, he broke out of a break 59km from the finish, soloing to victory by almost three minutes.
“It’s incredible,” he said at the time. “And it was a great feeling to have a lot of German fans around me. It was amazing to win a road race and not just a time trial and to have time to celebrate it in the last 10 minutes.”
A year later, in Cambrai he claimed another road stage, with a late dart off the front in the final 3km. That one came with the prize of the yellow jersey, which he would keep for three stages.
Of time trialling, for the better part of a decade he defined the discipline, because although he was not always the most powerful, he always cut the most efficient hole through the hair, was always the most motionless on the bike.
Martin: The perfect way to finish career
That’s a legacy that will live on long in the sport after him. Although his tall, willowy form was that which we’d expect a time triallist to possess, in demonstrating what an aerodynamic position can do, he showed that, in theory, any rider can compete in such races. Remco Evenepoel’s bronze medal on Sunday owes a lot to Tony Martin’s example, even if the young Belgian doesn’t know it.
Germany has never known a better time trialist. He remained his country’s best long after he let the discipline fall from his focus, and takes his 10th national title with him into retirement.
He also, of course, takes a fifth rainbow jersey. Not an individual one, though on Sunday he produced his finest Worlds results since he won in Doha in 2016, but one that saw him stand atop the Flanders podium with others, and embraced by two of the riders, Jos van Emden and Koen Bouwman, he beat in the same race.
Those two have been his team-mates since he joined Jumbo-Visma for the final chapter of his career. Some will even say it was the most significant, though that’s open to debate. Significant it was, however, as with the Dutch outfit he fully and humbly abandoned individual ambitions for those of the collective.
‘Such a shame’ – Wiggins on Tony Martin’s latest crash
He became the ultimate equipier. Although as visible on the front of the race as he had ever been when riding for himself, only a few times since 2019 has he finished a stage race inside the top 100. That includes time trials. In his first Tour de France for Jumbo, he finished the only TT in third from last place.
On opening day at the 2020 Tour he showed that he had transformed into one of the most respected riders around. With riders hitting the deck all over the place on the descent of the Aspremont, Martin took over at the front to compel caution. Who can forget the way he flapped his arms like an eagle, or the way those around him heeded his call for calm?
Or, more unfortunately, the way he went out of the Tour de France this year, at the hands of a spectator who in trying to be caught on camera, ended up taking out Martin and a great swathe of the bunch. His last few years in the peloton were not his luckiest, and that surely contributed to his decision to quit. There was also that memorable bust-up with Luke Rowe in 2019, which saw both riders disqualified two days before Paris. He was not always the easiest cyclist to get on with, as many who have interviewed him will attest, but he was always himself, and that remained true to the end.
Because everything he’s said points to this being a retirement on the rider’s own terms. He leaves the stage, maybe with more that he could offer, but nevertheless confident that he has given it his all and gotten all he wanted from it.
Martin announces retirement from cycling
19/09/2021 AT 17:13
Tour de France
‘He’s got a degree in falling off’ – Martin out of Tour following latest crash on Stage 11
07/07/2021 AT 11:53