Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) won his second stage of the 2013 Tour de France on Tuesday in Saint Malo, taking victory in the race’s tenth stage. After a long day into a block headwind, Kittel rode a high-power leadout to the stage win in the northwestern region of Bretagne.
André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) was second in the 197-kilometer leg. Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) was third after making contact with Argos’ Tom Veelers, who crashed hard behind Greipel in the final 200 meters.
“I’m really happy that we won the stage today, but on the other hand, I heard that Tom crashed and it must be a high speed crash. I hope he’s all right,” said Kittel. “I’m very happy that we’ve had such a good Tour. I’m so proud of my boys.”
Chris Froome (Sky) defended his overall lead when he finished in the peloton after some late stress caused by crosswinds. He leads the GC by 1:25 over Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and 1:44 over Bauke Mollema (Belkin).
“It was a good day yesterday with the rest day,” said Froome. “Today was a relatively quiet day. The team did a good job protecting me.”
The long, wind-beaten escape
A group of five riders escaped into the day’s long breakaway immediately in Saint Gildas des Bois: Jerome Cousin (Europcar), Juan José Oroz (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Luis Maté (Cofidis), Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM), and Julien Simon (Sojasun). The escapees gained a maximum gap of just over five minutes in the early part of the stage.
With the intermediate sprint looming, the gap was dropping inside the final 100km. With 80km to go, the leaders held onto 3:30, Sky splitting duties in the peloton with Omega Pharma, Lotto, and Argos.
The wind battered the breakaway all day and, despite their best effort, the gap was inside a minute in the final 30km.
Oroz let fly with an attack with 28km to go, but his companions tracked him down quickly. Westra was the first man to drop off the group, coming unhitched with 15km to go. The group’s advantage was under 20 seconds.
Not content to sit through the run-in to the line, Alberto Contador’s Saxo-Tinkoff teammates went to the front when the road turned along the coast, shifting the wind to the side, with 20km to go. The Danish squad kicked up the pace and split the peloton, but the only big name caught out was Garmin-Sharp’s Andrew Talansky, who crashed with Svein Tuft (Orica-GreenEdge).
Talansky’s teammates David Millar and Daniel Martin went to the front of the bunch to control, slowly taking the gap out of the breakaway, but keeping the speed under control. Despite a race radio call announcing Talansky’s return to the bunch with 10km to go, he was timed at 1:40 to Kittel at the finish. The Garmin men gave way to the sprinters’ teams with 9km to go.
With 8.5km to go, the leaders had just 200 meters on the peloton, headed by Lotto and Argos.
Together for a high-speed bunch sprint in Saint Malo
With the gap at just 10 meters, Maté attacked, but was going nowhere. With 5.5km to go, Omega Pharma rode through Maté and Cousin. Simon countered, but Stuart O’Grady closed him down for Orica-GreenEdge. With 5km to go, the race was all together for the bunch sprint.
With 4km to go, the trains for Omega Pharma and Argos battled for the front. Time trial world champion Tony Martin pulled the former to the front.
But Orica surged again, driving along for Matthew Goss. With 3km to go, Lotto undid them both, however, and went to the front.
A right-hand roundabout derailed the Lotto train, however, and was forced to reorganize. Orica again took the front, but with just one rider. Goss lost position in the turn and Orica called off its effort. Adam Hansen would soon take over again for Lotto, Omega Pharma tucked in behind the Greipel train.
Marcel Seiberg drove the Lotto train to 1km to go, leaving just Greg Henderson and Greipel for the final K. Gert Steegmans dropped Cavendish off in the first five wheels, but the Manxman was largely left to freelance the finale.
Henderson jumped with 700 meters to go. Greipel followed and opened the sprint to the left.
“We ran out of guys and they went earlier … would’ve been too far for me to go,” said Cavendish. “I think it’s disrespectful to make it out like it’s a big loss for us because Kittel is an incredible bike rider … His team rides really well … I think the team could have done some things differently but we will talk about that later.”
A violent crash and ensuing controversy
Cavendish jumped left to follow Greipel, making elbow-to-elbow contact with Veelers, who had sat up and drifted right slightly, his leadout duties complete. The Argos man lost control and crashed hard.
“I did my lead out for Marcel, and as I did my job, I went out of the way,” said Veelers. “And it was Cavendish who took me off my bike. When I see the video it’s very clear it’s his fault, he has to be DQed. The sprint was strange, it’s unbelievable that something like that happens. I want excuses at least. I’m a little finished with Cavendish.”
Sagan was just behind the crash.
“No, I don’t say … It’s normal in the sprint, I don’t know,” he said when asked about it following the stage.
Kittel called the crash unlucky.
“I saw it on video, how it happened. It was very unlucky that they bumped into each other,” said Kittel. “I cannot imagine that it was on purpose, because it was a very active situation … Sometimes that’s something that just happens.”
Remarkably, race jury president Vicente Tortajada Villaroya cleared Cavendish of any wrongdoing.
“Veelers had done his job for Kittel, he was tired and he was looking down. If we have to blame anyone, it is Veelers,” said Tortajada. “There has been no complaint from Argos, but we were not considering sanctions or a disqualification.”
However, the incident made waves among other riders, especially those who had to try to avoid it. Goss had to employ some slick bike-handling skills, veering quickly off to the left, to avoid Veelers as he and his bike spilled across the road, and called the incident “more ass than class.”
Henderson, meanwhile, was more critical of Cavendish’s move, writing on Twitter: “Big congrats Argos and @marcelkittel. Really hope Tom Veelers is ok. Completely knocked off his bike unnecessarily. That’s not professional.”
Later, at the Omega Pharma team bus, Cavendish faced questions over the crash.
“The road was bearing left … I know you’re trying to get all the ‘Mark Cavendish is a really bad sprinter again,’ but with 150 meters to go the road bears left,” he said. “All I do is follow the road … There will be net forums with people going mad about it but I follow the road, I’m not going to hit the barriers.”
When asked outright if the crash were his fault, Cavendish took a tape recorder belonging to Associated Press reporter Jamey Keaton onto the bus before returning it.
Kittel, Froome survive for top honors
Up the road, Kittel came even with his countryman Greipel and beat him on the line. Cavendish came through third, one spot better than green jersey Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
“From here, it’s all about enjoying the Tour and being here together at the Tour,” said Kittel, who equaled his total of 12 wins from the 2012 season.
Froome avoided the late crash and is widely expected to expand his advantage on Valverde and co. in Wednesday’s 11th stage time trial.
“That’s always everyone’s worst nightmare, getting caught in a pile-up,” he said. “Fortunately I was to the side of that crash and
went around it no problems.
“The TT tomorrow is very good opportunity to take more time in the GC … I hope to widen the gap to the others. Valverde is the most dangerous rider. I think Tony Martin will make a good time trial.”