Tour de France 2014: Marcel Kittel makes most of Mark Cavendish absence by claiming sprint crown on The Mall in London
UK spell of the race comes to an end
It could hardly have been a more appropriate setting: just a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, Germany’s Marcel Kittel was crowned King of the Tour sprints today as he captured a near-faultless bunch sprint win for the second time in three days.
Kittel’s superiority was such that by the time he crossed the line, the 26-year-old Giant-Shimano rider was more than two bike lengths ahead of his nearest opponent Peter Sagan – in sprinting, the equivalent of country miles. This was partly due to a superb lead-out from his team-mates, as first John Degenkolb and then Tom Veelers guided the German into pole position for the final dash along The Mall. But ultimately it was up to Kittel to deliver – and deliver he most certainly did.
Already leading the pack on the flat, broad boulevard, he needed barely a dozen pedal strokes before he crossed the line with his arms aloft. Behind him, with Kittel safely en route to success, his team-mates raised their arms in triumph, too, as they freewheeled towards the line and a round of celebratory hugs.
Sky rider and Tour favourite Chris Froome avoided any calamities and came home in the pack to continue his solid start to the race. “It was a tough stage and tricky coming into London,” Froome said. “There was a lot of road furniture but again there were just massive, massive crowds out there. We did get a little bit wet in the final part but I suppose it wouldn’t have been a British start without a bit of rain! It was a good day for us and we’re three days into the Tour now. It’s a good feeling.”
Read more: Britain retains yellow jersey for sport-watching
Thomas: Selfies are the new pain in the arse
For Kittel it’s all about the wins. “It’s a big relief to have got two victories so quickly,” he said. “Winning here feels as good as winning on the Champs Elysées last year. People shouldn’t think this gets any easier, sometimes we make mistakes. It was a stage, though, made for a sprint, much more so than Saturday” – where Kittel had won and taken the yellow jersey to boot – “where it was much less flat and the racing was harder.”
Kittel gave a wry smile when asked if he could ensure he would not imitate his performance in May’s Giro d’Italia, where he took two stages out of the first three – but then abandoned 24 hours later with a fever. “I will take care this time,” he said.
In fact, the only question mark over Kittel’s win was the absence of Mark Cavendish, who will undergo shoulder surgery that will rule him out of the Commonwealth Games after his crash on Saturday. “It’s worse than I was hoping,” he said yesterday. Given yesterday’s stage location, the lack of the British sprinter was even more noticeable.
However, Cavendish could not beat the German in last year’s Tour on three attempts, and going on the margin by which Kittel has had the measure of the opposition so far, it seems unfair to doubt the German’s superiority.
Cycling fans await the riders on The Mall
“Without Cavendish, there is still plenty of competition,” Kittel said. “Don’t forget [French champion] Arnaud Démare and [German sprinter] Andre Greipel.” They were not the most dangerous challengers on Monday though: they finished 14th and 23rd.
Only further sprints will resolve this debate, but the one clear difference, as Kittel pointed out, is that “without Mark there aren’t as many teams controlling the race, and that is something we have to take into account.”
That said, Giant-Shimano kept the stage’s breakaways on a tight leash in a manner which Cavendish would have commended. As the race wended its way through the wind-rippled cornfields of Essex, two early attackers, Czech Jan Barta and France’s Jean-Marc Bideau, were given enough margin – four minutes – by Kittel’s squad to deter other potential challengers, but not so much that they would not be reeled in before the finish.
By the time the Tour crossed the border into Greater London, the two riders’ advantage had been halved, and as they began the long haul towards Buckingham Palace along the Thames’ north bank, it was clear they were doomed to be caught.
As the odd rain-shower pelted down and a nervous-looking Alberto Contador came close to the front and barked order after order at his team-mate, Barta briefly shed Bideau, but he could not hold off the peloton for much longer. Then, after one late crash caused two outside overall favourites, the brothers Andy and Frank Schleck, to lose just over a minute, Giant upped the pace still further for Kittel.
Latest in Sport
MotoGP Qatar Grand Prix 2015: Five things we can expect this season plus what to look out for as Marc Marquez begins title defence
WrestleMania 31: What time does it start? Full match card and preview ahead of WWE event
Sting vs Triple H: NWO, DX and Shawn Michaels return at Wrestlemania 31 at The Game triumphs in flashback to Monday Night Wars
Cricket World Cup 2015: It was all over the moment the cup’s best bowler bowled the best batsman
Thierry Henry shows he's still got it with incredible pass against Jamie Carragher's side during Steven Gerrard tribute match
- 1 East 17 bandmember Brian Harvey in 'very desperate situation’
- 3 Vladimir Putin says Russia will fight for the right of Palestinians to their own state
- 4 Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
- 5 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
Revealed: Putin's army of pro-Kremlin bloggers
£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...
£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...
£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...