Marcel Kittel repeated his Giro d’Italia Stage two sprint win in Sunday’s Stage Three, overcoming rain, a headwind, a very technical approach, and an uphill finish to earn himself a victory on his 29th birthday.
“I thought I lost it, but I told myself, “Don’t give up,” Kittel told Eurosport after the final sprint.
The Giant -Shimano sprinter got separated from his leadout train on the narrow twisting roads leading to the finish line, and got squeezed towards the back of the lead group. When Sky’s Ben Swift came around leadout rider Edvald Boasson Hagen with 100 meters to go, Kittel was eighth. Somehow the big German rider found the strength to sprint uphill past seven other strong, fast riders to catch Swift by a wheel-width at the line.
“I came here with the goal to win the first stage and after that the pressure is off slightly but today was not easy and it was really close at the finish,” Kittel told CyclingNews.com.
“The road got really narrow with two kilometers to go and we knew that we had to be in front here, and we were but I got sandwiched and it was a choice of letting go of Tom [Veeler]’s wheel or probably crashing. This put me out of position slightly and a bit far back, but I was never going to give up on the chance to win a stage.
“When I could see the finish line after the final corner I gave it everything and it was really close but I just concentrated on the line and managed to come past everyone.
“It is extra special to win on your birthday and I must thank my teammates for the work they did for me again today. We can have a day of down time now before targeting the next flat stage in Italy.”
Michael Matthews held on to the leader’s jersey but it was a near thing. The Orica-GreenEdge sprinter got tangled up in a crash 80 km from the finish, fought to get back to the front, and then got caught behind a split in the peloton one the twisting roads leading to the finish line. He managed to catch the leading bunch and crossed the line 16th, preserving his eight-second lead over Omega Pharma-Quick-Step’s Alessandro Petacchi.
The 187-km stage contained a pair of small categorized climbs early on, but it was plainly going to end in a bunch sprint, and Kittle has proven himself the quickest of the quick men at this year’s Giro.
That didn’t stop five riders from attacking six km from the start. Maarten Tjallingii (Belkin,) started the breakaway looking for more King of the Mountain points; Yonder Godoy (Androni,) Miguel Angel Rubiano Chavez (Colombia,) Gert Dockx (Lotto Belisol,) and Giorgio Cecchinel (Neri Sottoli) followed along to try their luck.
The group never got more than six minutes ahead of the peloton, and were caught with eight km to go—except for Giorgio Cecchinel, who fired a final shot, but he only stayed away another eight-tenths of a kilometer before it was grupo compatto.
Cannondale was the first tema to take control of the peloton, but Giant-Shimano pushed them aside in the final three kilometers—then lost contact with their sprinter in the final two. Sky moved up on the right and Cannondale pushed forward again, determined to give their sprinter a better chance than he had in Stage Two.
Edvald Boasson Hagen led Ben Swift onto the final incline (at two percent it cannot be called a hill) and Swift started his sprint 100 meters out, looking like the sure winner. Kittel simply refused to lose, and found a reserve of power to push him past his rival. Viviani had to be satisfied with third, one spot better than the day before.
Monday will be a rest day for the riders, or more accurately a transfer day as the Giro returns to Italy for the remaining 18 stages.