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DUBAI (VN) — Marcel Kittel left no doubt Thursday with an impressive stage 2 victory in his first major showdown against Mark Cavendish at the Dubai Tour.
Cavendish (Omege Pharma-Quick Step) was not a factor in the finale on Palm Jumeirah after his leadout train misfired in the closing kilometers, crossing the line a distant 30th. Kittel (Giant-Shimano) roared to his second win in 2014, ahead of Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and race leader Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing), who crossed the line third in the 122-kilometer leg, which started in Dubai.
“Phinney went early, and it was a hard battle to pass him, but I managed at 200 meters to go,” said Kittel, who blew a kiss to the heavens. “I have no idea what happened to Cavendish. He was still there at 1.5km to go, but I don’t have eyes on the back of my head, so I don’t know what happened.”
Phinney kicked to third to extend his overall lead by one second, to 15 seconds, going into Friday’s third stage.
Manxster Express off the rails
Omega Pharma was intent on setting up Cavendish for his first win of 2014, but the train misfired, apparently when Tony Martin overcooked a hard U-turn while leading the peloton at just over 3km to go. Giant came in underneath, pushing Cavendish out of position in the late going.
The Manxman was unable to regain Kittel’s wheel on a narrow finishing straight in the closing kilometer, and then realized it was futile to try to sprint for the win.
“With 300 meters to go, I was in 15th position,” Cavendish told reporters. “From there, I was only going to get eighth, so I didn’t even do a sprint.”
The result was a disappointment for Omega Pharma, which brought on Mark Renshaw and Alessandro Petacchi to bolster the team’s support for Cavendish in the sprints.
Saturday’s final stage should see another opportunity for Cavendish, who did not win a stage in his season debut at the Tour de San Luís last month, to try to get it right.
Kittel on the rise
For Kittel and Giant, the win is another confirmation that the big, blonde German is on the front lines of the bunch sprint.
This season will see epic battles between Kittel and Cavendish for supremacy in the sprints. Others have beaten Cavendish on positioning, but in last year’s Tour, Kittel blew past the British champion, leading some to wonder if Cavendish’s best years might be behind him.
Kittel downplayed his growing rivalry with Cavendish, but admitted he wants the crown as the fastest man in the peloton.
“I would like to challenge for the reference of the sprint,” Kittel said. “I wanted to be better here than in Australia because I wanted to sprint good against Cavendish. This race was important for me because we wanted to test our train, and apparently it worked for very well.”
Kittel said there is no personal rancor with Cavendish, but let it be very clear he’s out to become the world’s top sprinter.
“I am certainly not going out to dinner with Mark, but I think we have a normal relationship,” he said. “During the race, we are competitors, but we can have a chat afterward.
“I am trying to go my own way, to follow my goals, together with the team, then we have to see who we have to beat to achieve those goals. In Australia, it was (André) Greipel, here it’s Mark. Maybe soon they will both be at the start, or maybe it will be someone else.”
Phinney retains lead
Phinney, meanwhile, managed to widen his lead by showing off his sprinting chops to take third on the stage, adding the buffer of a one-second time bonus to his lead.
Phinney, who won Wednesday’s opening time trial to snag the blue jersey, suddenly saw an opportunity to try to make it two in a row.
“Some guys were pulling off and with a tail-crosswind like that, you can gain a lot of speed from behind,” Phinney said. “I just started to pass everybody and did my own sprint. I started really early — maybe 300 meters out — but unfortunately started to die a bit with 75 meters to go.”
With the one-second bonus, Phinney widened his lead over BMC teammate Steve Cummings to 15 seconds, with third-place Lasse Norman Hansen (Garmin-Sharp) now 17 seconds back.
BMC help set the tempo Thursday after a three-man breakaway pulled clear early. With dangerman Francisco Mancebo (SkyDive Dubai) in the break, BMC and the sprinters’ teams shut it down with 10km to go to set up the mass sprint.
Phinney said he felt protected by his teammates as he rode the first full day in the leader’s jersey.
“The team was really good,” said BMC sport director Max Sciandri. “We have Thor Hushovd, who is an experienced guy, always looking after us. He’s kind of the road captain. Taylor finished it off with a great sprint. But you never know what to expect when you look at these maps, especially with the wind and finishing on an island.”
Friday’s penultimate stage pushes into the desert country beyond the skyscrapers of Dubai, where crosswinds and two short but steep climbs will put Phinney and the sprinters under pressure.
BMC will have its hands full to try to control the 162km leg from Dubai to Hatta, with the likes of Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) and Sagan lurking at 26 seconds and 30 seconds, respectively, on the general classification.