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The 2014 Tour de France arrived on London Monday, with German Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) winning a field sprint on The Mall, directly in front of Buckingham Palace.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) finished second, with Mark Renshaw (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) taking third, just in front of Bryan Coquard (Europcar).
It was Kittel’s sixth Tour stage win in the last two editions — and amongst those he won on the Champs Elysees in Paris in the final stage of last year’s race. Kittel said finishing in London was on par with the Tour’s famous final-day sprint.
“It came pretty close to the Champs Elysees, I’m pretty sad that we’ll finish only once here because it’s a great atmosphere by the side of the road. It was one of the greatest finishes I’ve ever seen because of this great scenery,” said Kittel.
After a demanding second stage that put the peloton through continuous climbs that totaled over 10,000 feet of elevation, stage 3 appeared destined for a field sprint.
The flat 96-mile (155km) route from Cambridge to London took the 196-rider peloton past King’s College before the race started in Trumpington.
At kilometer zero two riders — Jean-Marie Bideau (Bretagne-Séché Environnement) and Jan Barta (NetApp-Endura) — jumped clear. The peloton allowed the pair to escape, and by 40km into the stage, the two riders, both from UCI Pro Continental teams that received wildcard invitations to the Tour, had opened a gap to over four minutes. Behind, Astana, Lotto-Belisol and Giant-Shimano set pace.
The race route visited Saffron Walden, Chelmsford and east London, going past famous landmarks such as Cambridge University’s St John’s, Trinity and King’s colleges as well as London’s 2012 Olympic Park, Tower Bridge, and Big Ben before ending in front of Queen Elizabeth II’s official residence, Buckingham Palace, opposite the finish line — the same spot where Alexander Vinokourov took Olympic gold in 2012.
This time around, however, Vinokourov, who now works as general manager for Astana, was celebrating the yellow jersey worn by Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali.
With a transfer to France following the stage, the peloton seemed content to allow the two riders to dangle off the front; after 100km the time gap had come down, slowly, to 2:12.
With 29km remaining, Andy Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) and Ted King (Cannondale) went down in a crash that involved a spectator, but both men were able to regain contact with the main bunch.
By 20km to go, the gap came down to 1:31, and a light rain began to fall at the finish line. Bideau was first to give up the fight, however Barta pushed on, and was caught with 6km to go.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step took to the front with 4km to go, looking to set up Renshaw, who replaces the injured Mark Cavendish as its field sprinter. Behind OPQS, Katusha sat poised to set up its man, Alexander Kristoff.
At 3km out, Giant-Shimano took over, with Tom Veelers, John Degenklob, and Koen De Kort providing Kittel a perfect lead out.
“In the last 500 meters, the biggest fight was already over,” Kittel said. “Before then it was really complicated to stay at the front. It wasn’t easy, it had started to rain and everyone was scared. The boys did a great job. It was hard to stay together as a team, and I got a bit lost, but Tom Veelers brought me back to the wheel of Koen De Kort. It was an amazing finish line, and I think also it was one of the fastest sprints of my career.”
Nibali finished safely in the peloton to retain his maillot jaune, which he’d taken from Kittel, the stage 1 winner, on Sunday.
“It was a beautiful sensation to wear the yellow jersey today,” Nibali said. “Especially in front of so many people here in the UK. The mountains will decide this Tour. Now we are calm. It was a little bit nervous in the finale, but the rest of the day of was very nice. The team protected me well throughout the day, so that makes me calm.”
Monday’s royal reception capped a hugely successful three days in Britain for the Tour, marked by huge, enthusiastic, and at times overzealous, crowds on the roads around Yorkshire.