Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) came within 30 metres of winning the sixth stage of the 2013 Vuelta a Espana after a day-long breakaway, but was passed within sight of the line.
Michael Mørkøv (Saxo-Tinkoff) claimed victory by outsprinting Maximiliano Richeze (Lampre-Merida) and Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Leopard).
Martin, however, was the moral victor after riding what he described modestly as a “four-hour time trial”.
The two-time and reigning world time trial champion, nicknamed the Panzerwagen for his immense strength, attacked almost from the start of today’s 205.9km stage from Guijuelo to Caceres .
Martin, the rider expected to offer the stiffest challenge to Olympic time trial champion, Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky), at next month’s world championships in Florence, modestly described today’s victory as “an unusual time trial of almost four hours.”
“I have to say the tailwind helped me. Without it, there was no chance to go until the end,” Martin said.
The German powerhouse, famed for running a 58-11 gear in the time trial at last year’s Dauphine Libere, built a lead of more than seven minutes within just 26km today.
His lead was gradually reduced until, with just 15km of the stage remaining, Martin held on to a lead of just 15 seconds. Two kilometres later, his advantage had been almost halved.
Digging deep, Martin rebuilt his lead as the stage reached its denouement, and with 5.8km remaining, had restored his advantage to 15 seconds.
A renewed effort by the peloton, however, slashed nine seconds from Martin’s margin as they passed beneath the flamme rouge.
“I saw the stripe of the finish line and could hear the peloton behind at the same time,” Martin said, “but I was really going all out with my legs. I couldn’t go any faster than I did in the last 200 metres. Unfortunately, they caught me.”
Morkov didn’t wait for a second invitation, and managed to hold off the challenge of Richeze and Cancellara.
For the second time in two days, Cancellara delivered a performance beyond his own formidable skill set.
A four-time world time trial champion, and more recently a cobbled Classics specialist, Cancellara turned sprinter after finishing second yesterday to the pure climber, Daniel Moreno (Katusha).
Today’s was a stage where the efforts of all other riders were immaterial, however. The day belonged solely to Martin.
“As usual when you do something like that it’s always bittersweet,” the German mused. “From one end, you think you could have won with a bit more luck. On the other hand, I felt like a winner.
“Everybody wanted to talk with me after the finish. I had the feeling I did something great and difficult.”
Tomorrow’s 205.9km seventh stage will take the riders over a rolling parcours. Check back tomorrow for a full report.