Tour de France 2017
Kittel, the imposing Quick-Step Floors sprinter, left it late before powering home to win the 216km Stage 6 through the Champagne fields and agricultural heartland of north-east France – 27 years after fellow German Erik Zabel became the last Tour stage winner in Troyes.
A combative Demare (FDJ) muscled his way past his rivals before riding perilously close to the barriers en route to a second place that consolidated his lead in the green jersey points classification.
Norway’s Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) and France’s Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) completed the top five behind a frustrated Greipel of Lotto Soudal, who shook his head after finishing third place in a bunch sprint for a third time in six days.
Kittel’s victory sees the 29-year-old German draw level with Greipel’s tally of eleven career stage wins on the Tour.
Britain’s Chris Froome (Team Sky) had a rudimentary first day in yellow to retain his 12-second lead over Welsh team-mate Geraint Thomas in the general classification. Italy’s Fabio Aru, the polka dot jersey from Team Astana, is third, a further two seconds back.
On a sweltering day in which the mercury pushed the high 30s, a breakaway of three riders – Frenchman Perrig Quemeneur (Direct Energie), Norway’s Vegard Stake Laengen (UAE Team Emirates) and Belgian Frederik Backaert (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) – rode clear of the peloton in the opening kilometre.
Quemeneur picked up the solitary point over the two fourth-category climbs on the menu while Backaert pocketed some prize money for his wildcard Belgian team in the intermediate sprint.
The plucky trio built up a maximum lead of just over four minutes but was swept up by the pack with just three kilometres remaining.
In a messy approach to the line, Kittel kept his powder dry before making his move on the home straight after a series of sweeping bends.
“The last kilometre was a little freestyle but I had a good wheel from Arnaud Demare and then I had to go with 250 metres to go, and it went perfectly,” Kittel told the media.
“I could start my sprint from a great position – a little bit from behind so I could see where my opponents would go – and yeah, I feel good at the moment.”
Kittel’s duel with Demare bodes well for a green jersey competition which has been blown wide open following Tuesday’s controversial disqualification of the world champion Peter Sagan, the Slovakian who won the points classification for the past five years.
Demare beat all his rivals for green in an intermediate sprint which Kittel chose to sit out. The French national champion now has 170 points – 27 more than the German double stage winner.
The battle for green will intensify on Friday when the riders tackle a fifth stage in excess of two-hundred kilometres in seven days: the 213.5km Stage 7 from Troyes to Nuits-Saint-Georges features one lower-category climb but should see another bunch sprint between the peloton’s fast men ahead of a weekend in the Jura mountains.