After the nine categorized climbs of Stage Two, Stage Three of the 101st Tour de France was a day for the sprinters: no climbs at all, just a quick 155-km blast through various English towns and villages ending up in London.
As might be expected Giant-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel won the stage,. The 26-year-old German is now officially the fastest man on a bicycle—at least until Mark Cavendish recovers, and possibly even after.
“Emotionally, this win is close to the one I got on the Champs-Elysées in Paris last year,” Kittel told letour.com. “Winning on The Mall, that’s what I dreamed of but even though I had a good chance to make it come true, it’s not something I could take for granted. It’s really fantastic to win here. On the finishing line, the crowd was fantastic. I love the atmosphere.
“This was one of the fastest sprints I’ve ever done. My job was 500 metres long but the biggest fight was already over. My boys had done a great job before that. I lost their wheels at some point but Tom Veelers brought me back to the wheel of Koen de Kort.
“Because of the rain, everybody was scared. But I didn’t let myself being disturbed and it’s a great day for us. So far I’ve won two stages out of three but I don’t have a precise goal in terms of number of victories. I’ll take it day by day. We’ll keep working hard with the aim of winning more.”
Cannondale’s Peter Sagan finished second, quite a feat in a field full of pure sprinters. Sagan kept the green points jersey by finishing second in the day’s only intermediaste sprint, behind Europcar’s Bryan Cocard—the young Frenchman is proving to be surprisingly quick.
Mark Renshaw, erstwhile leadout rider for Mark Cavendish at Omega Pharma-Quickstep finished third. Bryan Coquard took fourth in the final sprint, losing out to Renshaw by inches.
The day started with an immediate attack from NetApp-Endura’s Jan Barta, Czech time-trial champion, Jean-Marc Bideau of Bretagne-Seche Environnement. It is the first Tour for both riders, and spending 150 km in at the head of it was surely exciting, particularly since the roads from Cambridge to London were lined with over a million enthusiastic fans.
Of course the break was doomed from the start; the stage belonged to the sprinters from the day the race route was announced. Bideau was caught eight km fromt he finish; Barta lasted another two km before being absorbed.
The sprinters’ teams spent the next few thousand meters vying for control, and it was Omega Pharma-Quickstep which was first to establish itself at the head of the peloton, but with more the four kilometers left, they moved too soon.
Katusha and Lotto tried to contest control, but by the three-km mark it was Giant -Shimano with six riders at the front of the race, setting up Kittel. The lead-out was perfect and when the big German turned on the speed, no one could catch him.
Peter Sagan made an all-out effort just to stay on Kittel’s wheel, but had no chance to come around. Renshaw, exhausted by going so fast for so long just to reach the sprint, also lacked the firepower to try a pass.
Tuesday the Tourt heads across the channel to France for another sprinting stage before the dreaded pavés of Stage Five—meaning Kittle will likely have his third stage win by Tuesday evening.