Tour de France 2017
Germany’s Marcel Kittel was head and shoulders above his rivals as he coasted to a fourth win on the 2017 Tour de France in a one-way sprint at the conclusion of Stage 10 from Perigueux to Bergerac.
The powerful Quick-Step Floors rider led by such a margin that he had time to sit up, relax, and take it all in as he came home a bike length clear of compatriot John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) and Dutch youngster Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo).
While Rudiger Selig of Bora-Hansgrohe made it three Germans in the top four, there was nothing to celebrate – by a country mile – for veteran Andre Greipel who, despite hard work from his Lotto Soudal team-mates, stuttered to 12th place just ahead of the equally out-of-sorts Australian, Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb).
Kittel has now equalled his record haul for a single Tour de France – even though the 104th edition has yet to hit the half-way point and there remains, at least, another three sprints on the menu. Kittel’s thirteenth career triumph on the Tour also makes the German his nation’s outright leading stage winner, having leapfrogged the legendary Erik Zabel.
“Of course it means something to me,” Kittel said when quizzed about his place in German cycling folklore. “I’ve now won so many stages on the Tour and I never expected it when I started my career – I didn’t even expect to be at the Tour.
“At one point I dreamed of becoming a professional, but that I would be at this level, with those wins – it’s hard to imagine. I feel like I live in a small little bubble in a small world, that it’s not really true.”
The 29-year-old extended his lead over Matthews in the green jersey competition that he is overwhelming favourite to win following the disqualification of rivals Peter Sagan – for his shove on Mark Cavendish in Stage 4 – and Arnaud Demare, the French national champion who failed to finish Sunday’s frenetic stage to Chambery within the time limit.
Britain’s Chris Froome (Team Sky) finished an uneventful day in the stunning Dordogne region of south-west France safely in the pack to retain his 18-second lead over Italy’s Fabio Aru of Astana in the general classification.
Two Frenchmen – Yoann Offredo (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Fortuneo-Oscaro’s Elie Gesbert, the youngest rider in the race – broke clear shortly after the start of the 178km stage to build up a maximum lead of over five minutes as the race passed a series of stunning castles in one of France’s premier tourist destinations.
Gesbert crested the summit of two fourth-category climbs in pole position while Offredo won the intermediate sprint before the leading duo were swept up with 7km remaining as the teams of the sprinters readied their trains ahead of the inevitable fast finish.
By beating Kittel to third place in the intermediate sprint, Greipel looked likely to be his compatriot’s biggest rival in the final sprint. But despite Lotto Soudal enjoying power in numbers towards the finish, Greipel was unable to feature in the climax to an otherwise sedate day in the saddle.
Having ditched lead-out man Fabio Sabatini inside the final kilometre, Kittel latched onto the wheel of Britain’s Dan McLay, the Fortuneo-Oscaro sprinter who clearly launched too early.
Kittel used McLay as a slingshot as he opened up his sprint to the line – while Norway’s Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) found his path blocked by the lead-out man of Cofidis sprinter Nacer Bouhanni.
Only Degenkolb and Groenewegen found their grove – but both riders were merely scrapping for second, such was the dominance of Kittel. Selig passed the disappointing Kristoff and Bouhanni, while McLay sunk to seventh.
“I saw that McLay started his sprint very early and so that was my lead out,” Kittel admitted. “From there on I hit the front at exactly 220 metres to go – and it’s no surprise that I feel very good in the sprints at the moment.
“I can’t really believe it. It’s number four, so that’s actually an incredible amount of Tour de France stages to win in one Tour. I can’t believe it. I’m so happy, it’s super nice. The team worked so hard again today and I’m just speechless.”
Despite Kittel’s disbelief, he has now won four stages in three of his six Tours to date: 2013, 2014 and 2017.
Kittel’s latest victory saw the German move 102 points clear of Matthews in the one-sided battle for green, with Greipel a further 23 points back.
Kittel will have a good chance to make it five wins tomorrow in the 203.5km Stage 11 from Eymet to Pau, which looks destined to finish in another bunch sprint.