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SAUMUR, France (AFP) — Germany’s top two sprinters have been left smarting ahead of Tuesday’s fourth stage of the Tour de France.
Briton Mark Cavendish has dominated the sprints so far, winning the first and third stages ahead of Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel, respectively.
It’s been a remarkable turnaround for the 31-year-old Manxman, who had to play second fiddle to Kittel and Greipel over the previous three editions of the Tour.
But the Germans are gunning for their more illustrious rival ahead of Tuesday’s 237-kilometer ride from Saumur to Limoges — the longest stage of this year’s Tour.
Kittel’s struggles — he finished seventh in Monday’s sprint finish — are particularly baffling, given that he’s widely considered to be the fastest man in the peloton.
He won four stages in both 2013 and 2014 before missing last year’s race due to injury and illness. But he said on Twitter his Etixx – Quick-Step team made mistakes in the run-in to Monday’s finish on a slightly uphill gradient.
That stage was marked by a slow and pedestrian pace for the first five hours of racing before the peloton finally kicked into gear and chased down French breakaway pair Armindo Fonseca (Fortuneo – Vital Concept) and Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie).
Lotto – Soudal’s Greipel suggested on Twitter that the sprinters’ teams wouldn’t allow Tuesday’s stage to get so stale.
Greipel was edged out by barely an inch by Cavendish, who overhauled him at the last possible moment in Tuesday’s finish to claim a 28th Tour stage win, equaling the mark of Bernard Hinault to rank second on the all-time list.
Tuesday will be another day to conserve energy and stay out of trouble for the overall contenders as the Tour continues south toward the big mountains.
Wednesday’s stage includes a lumpy finish that will probably shred the peloton, but on Tuesday there will almost certainly be a bunch sprint.
Things have been going well for reigning Tour champion Chris Froome of Sky, who is fourth overall at just 14 seconds off race leader and yellow jersey wearer Peter Sagan of Tinkoff.
“We’re really happy with where we are with Chris. You can’t control everything but we’re pleased with the position at the moment,” Sky sport director Servais Knaven said.
Froome’s main rival Nairo Quintana of Movistar is also well placed on GC, with the same time as Froome.
Both sprinted hard on Tuesday’s stage to stay near the front and finished 22nd and 23rd, respectively.
But that drew criticism from Cavendish and Sagan, who accused the overall contenders of getting in the sprinters’ way.