Last year Marcel Kittel's much awaited Tour de France debut was cut short as he was sent packing early on with a terrible stomach bug that had prevented him from even contesting the early sprints. This year, he seems to be making up for lost time and today notched his third stage victory in the race, this time narrowly getting the better of Mark Cavendish and his perfect leadout. The Argos - Shimano rider is no longer a promising talent but instead, very clearly, one of the best sprinters in the game.
The day's breakaway of Romain Sicard (Euskatel), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil), Francisco Gavazzi (Astana), Anthony Delaplace (Sojasun) and Manuele Mori (Lampre - Merida) wasted no effort and drove the pace all day, staying ahead of the fastest predicted time schedule. Their time out front was brought to an end one by one as Sicard dropped off with 50 kilometers remaining before Flecha flew away solo at 20km to go. Flecha was brought back into the fold with 6 kilometers remaining and the sprint trains fired up in earnest as the peloton roared into one of the most famous sprinters' playgrounds in the sport, Tours.
The final five kilometers contained some tricky roads that, when coupled with jockeying for position, caused a few riders to crash at the front end of affairs. First was one of the ORICA - GreenEdge riders who lost his front wheel at the front end of the bunch. The second major mishap occurred with only 2 kilometers remaining as two of André Greipel's leadout men crashed right in front of him, an incident which would prevent him from contesting the sprint even after he escaped unscathed.
Inside the final kilometer, it was Mark Cavendish's Omega Pharma - Quickstep teammates at the front executing a perfect leadout, Cavendish tucked in behind Gert Steegmans' ample draft and waiting to pounce. Even though Steegmans delivered Cavendish perfectly, Marcel Kittel proved to have the fastest legs of the day, coming around Cavendish in the final 100m to win by a wheel as the Manxman looked over in seeming disbelief. Peter Sagan mounted a solid defense of his green jersey by finishing on the final step of the podium.
- Marcel Kittel (Argos - Shimano)
- Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma - Quickstep)
- Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cycling)
- Alexander Kristoff (Katusha)
- Roberto Ferrari (Lampre- Merida)
- Daryl Impey (ORICA - GreenEdge)
- Jose Rojas (Movistar)
- Johann Gene (Europcar)
- Juan Jose Lobato (Euskatel - Euskadi)
- Samuel Dumoulin (AG2R La Mondiale)
- Chris Froome (Sky Pro Cycling)
- Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), at 3:25
- Bauke Mollema (Belkin), at 3:37
- Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma - Quickstep)
- Nairo Quintana (Movistar), at 0:34
- Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), at 6:53
- Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cycling), 307pts
- Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma - Quickstep), 211pts
- André Greipel (Lotto - Belisol), 195pts