If we need any convincing that Marcel Kittel is the next big thing in sprinting, Stage 12 of the Tour de France provided confirmation as the big German from Argos-Shimano rode over the top of Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Mark Cavendish to take the win in the town of Tours.
Cavendish just doesn’t lose when his leadout man, Gert Steegmans in this instance, delivers him so close to the line. Once the Manx Missile has clean track in front of him, it’s impossible to ride past him, right?
Wrong. Marcel Kittel showed us that if you’re fast enough, and he certainly seems to be, you can fly past Cav. Tom Veelers, involved in the controversial crash with Cavendish on Stage 10, was charged with leading out Kittel, but such is the newly found confidence in his own ability that Kittel decided to leave Veelers’ wheel and jump on to Cavendish’s, believing he could ride past Cavendish and claim the stage win.
And the look on Cavendish’s face as Kittel did indeed go past was sheer disbelief. He thumped the handlebars in frustration, but he seemed almost unable to grasp what had just happened. I’m sure Cavendish was already thinking about what he’d say to the media about winning a stage on the back of a tough few days – universally condemned for sending Veelers down in Stage 10 and then having urine thrown on him by a spectator during his time trial in Stage 11. Unfortunately for Cav, there was no stage win to ease his pain, just further salt added to his cycling wounds. The only consolation for Cavendish was that he ‘won’ his first intermediate sprint (he actually finished 6th, but with 5 riders in the breakaway, the big sprinters were sprinting for 6th place) – though his rivals appeared to sit up and hand him the ‘win’.
No matter what you think of Mark Cavendish, or what you think of his contribution to the crash with Argos-Shimano’s Tom Veelers, no one can condone a spectator throwing urine on a rider, a truly disgraceful act.
Cycling offers it spectators something not many other sports can – the ability to get within centimeters of the action, and not only that you can watch races like this for free. For someone to take advantage of that for such a dastardly act defies belief and we can only hope that someone helps identify the perpetrator and they are brought to justice.
But enough about Cavendish, this is Marcel Kittel’s moment in the sun, and nothing can take away from one of the most remarkable sprint wins seen in a long time. Big things were expected from Kittel at last year’s Tour, but the pressure and illness took their toll and he abandoned in the first week. Now, with 3 stage wins already, his self-belief has grown and he’s announced himself as a challenger for the title of fastest man in the peloton.
Cannondale’s Peter Sagan was third on the stage and with Andre Greipel of Lotto Belisol caught up behind a crash with 2 kilometres left he has an almost unassailable lead in the race for the green jersey (Cavendish moved into second place in the Points Classification, but Sagan has a massive 96 point lead). Sagan is a brilliant sprinter no doubt, but it’s his all-round sprinting ability that gives him an advantage when it comes to the green jersey. When it’s a flat sprint finish, Cavendish is the man expected to win, with Greipel usually considered his biggest rival. How that has all changed now with the arrival of this 25 year old German powerhouse, Kittel.
Sadly from an Australian perspective, Orica-GreenEDGE failed to get involved in a bunch sprint yet again. The Aussie boys went to the front of the peloton with 5 kilometres to go, but shortly after Svein Tuft went into a roundabout a little fast and crashed out and from there it only got worst as they too got caught up in the crash that robbed Greipel of a chance to contest the finish.
In many regards it’s been a dream tour for Orica-GreenEDGE, victory for Simon Gerrans on Stage 3 and then a team win in Stage 4’s Team Time Trial, plus time in the yellow jersey for Gerrans and Darryl Impey, but their inability to contest the bunch sprints must be extremely frustrating, especially for Matt Goss.
Chris Froome avoided the drama at the finish to hold on to the yellow jersey, the 3’25” advantage he holds over Alejandro Valverde of Movistar enough for many people to suggest that the race is over barring a crash. I’m not so sure. The big question for Froome now is can Team Sky support him in the mountains? They’ve already shown they were vulnerable once, and with Edvald Boasson Hagen going down hard in the crash just before the finish and suffering a suspected broken collarbone as a result, Froome will be 2 team-mates down (Vasil Kiryienka missed the cut off time in Stage 9 and was elimated) and could find himself isolated again and subject to waves of attacks from his rivals once the race reaches the Alps.
It’s already been a thoroughly entertaining tour, and the emergence of Marcel Kittel as a genuine star has just added another dimension. Roll on Stage 13 I say!