Tony Martin: Dominant domestique

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The cycling world will cast its collective gaze on Tony Martin this Saturday when the Tour de France kicks off with a short time trial through the streets of Dusseldorf. That level of attention is well deserved, of course. Martin is the best rider of his generation in the race against the clock, owning four elite world titles in the discipline. The Tour’s first stage marks the race’s return to Germany, his homeland. On Saturday, Tony Martin is the man to beat.

Fans should pay attention to Martin as the peloton rumbles into the French countryside to contest the first, second, and then third weeks of the Tour. It’s during the race’s flat and hilly stages when Martin truly proves his value a teammate capable of contributing to victory. Martin is perhaps the most valuable domestique in the entire peloton, capable of dictating strategy with every powerful turn of his pedals. He is the man who beats teams.

The life of a domestique is famously unglamorous, of course. Martin must sacrifice his own ambitions for the collective good of the team, riding in the wind while the others sit in his slipstream to save valuable energy. He often crosses the line minutes behind the winner, drained of energy after a day spent battling the wind.

This work is invaluable to his team. Martin’s enormous power output and massive biological engine means he can ride at the head of the peloton for hours without tiring. This skill earned him his nickname, Panzerwagen. It is a game changer during the Tour’s aggressive stages.

Does a breakaway need to be chased down? Martin is the man for the job. His steady pace can close a gap to a pack of riders who are pedaling in vain to get away. Does the team’s sprinter need to be shepherded to the finish line? Again, Martin is the go-to rider. His furious pace can transform the bunch into a strung-out line of riders who are simply fighting to reach the finish line. No rider would dare to attack the group in such a situation.

Pro riders can rattle off Martin’s accolades as a worker bee. There was that time during the 2016 edition of Paris-Roubaix when he decimated the peloton in the lead-up to the Arenberg trench, and then towed Tom Boonen across the pave to the lead group. Later that year he charged ahead with teammate Julian Alaphilippe during stage 16 of the Tour de France, burying himself to give the young Frenchman an advantage on the road.

And then there are Martin’s unrewarded moments that occur so many times during the season. He takes a monster pull. He shuts down a breakaway. He flexes his muscles and makes everyone hurt. He shows the peloton exactly why he is the man to beat.

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