MARCEL KITTEL CELEBRATED winning what he called an “awesome” Tour de France stage in front of Buckingham Palace as he emphasised his status as the best sprinter in the world.
The 26-year-old German won his second stage out of three at this year’s Grand Boucle as he proved too strong for the sprint competition on the 155km stage from sunny Cambridge to wet London.
“It was awesome, I’m really happy I could win this stage in front of Buckingham Palace. There were amazing crowds, great scenery, the team did a really good job which was a great advertisement for our lead-out train,” said Kittel.
Without former world champion and 25-time Tour stage winner Mark Cavendish for competition, Kittel looked in a class of his own.
Cavendish crashed on the finish to the first stage in Harrogate on Saturday and dislocated his collarbone, withdrawing from the race before the start of Sunday’s second stage from York.
Kittel admitted Cavendish’s absence made his job easier.
That’s one big opponent that’s not in the race anymore. Of course it changes things for me and also the team. We have to take it into account for the next few stages,” said the German.
Launched perfectly by his Giant-Shimano team, the battle behind Kittel was merely for his back wheel and the slipstream his huge frame provides.
Peter Sagan, who took second on the stage ahead of Australian Mark Renshaw, won that particular battle but never had the strength nor the belief to try to dive out from behind Kittel to go for the win.
Pace and power
Slovakia’s Sagan at least held on to his green points jersey, though.
Kittel simply led home a procession, turning the final dash to the line into a demonstration of his pace and power.
Having suffered over Sunday’s gruelling 201km hilly grind from York to Sheffield, the overall contenders took it easy through Monday’s stage.
Race leader Vincenzo Nibali kept out of trouble and enjoyed his first ever day in yellow.
“What can I say, I’m really, really happy because today there were even more people than the other days,” he said.
“Maybe the rain ruined the party a bit but it was still a good day. I tried to look after the jersey and stay clear from trouble right to the end.
“I was well protected by my team. Here in England we’ve been met by a great welcome and fantatstic fans.”
Twice former winner Alberto Contador tested his legs in the final few kilometres by keeping near the front, more to stay away from potential danger than to try to finish high up.
He was wise to do so as there was a crash further back around 1.5km from the line.
Reigning champion Chris Froome was another to enjoy a fairly anonymous day, although the same could not be said for his Sky team-mate David Lopez, who clipped a fan who had strayed too far out into the road to take a picture.
Lopez survived the incident but it created a concertina effect behind in the peloton which saw former winner Andy Schleck go down in a spill.
On a sunny day with blue skies in Cambridge, Frenchman Jean-Marc Bideau and Jan Barta of the Czech Republic were the escapees of the stage, heading off straight from the start and lasting almost 150km in the lead.
On a day that was always a near certainty to end in a bunch sprint, the 18 World Tour teams didn’t bother to get involved in the breakaway, leaving two of the four invited teams to jump on the chance for some extended time in front of the television cameras.
They went close but Bideau gave up the ghost with 8km left and Barta battled on for another 2km before agonisingly succumbing to the inevitable.