Tour de France

Kittel’s green jersey hinges on breakaways

Marcel Kittel is focused on winning his first green jersey, but it is the breakaways, not bunch sprints that pose the biggest threat to his aim.

BERGERAC, France (VN) — After claiming stage 10 of the Tour de France — his fourth of the race and 13th career stage win — German sprinter Marcel Kittel brought himself one step closer to securing the race’s points classification. Kittel dominated the sprint in Bergerac, cruising across the line ahead of John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) with Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) in third.

Kittel has never won the race’s green points jersey. After the victory Kittel said he is currently on the best form of his career.

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“I think I can say that I’m the strongest Marcel at the moment,” Kittel said. “It gives me confidence to know that I did everything in a good way and that the planning worked out and I came fresh into the big race.”

With his victory, Kittel took a huge leap toward winning the title. Kittel has amassed 275 total points thanks to his four stage victories. Australian Michael Matthews (Sunweb) is a distant second with just 172 points. André Greipel sits third with 150 points.

As the race heads into its second half, Kittel knows that his biggest threat is likely to be breakaways, rather than bunch sprints. Matthews and Greipel are both skilled riders in the escape. They must now target mid-stage points in addition to the bunch sprints. Matthews added to his points total by riding in the breakaway during Sunday’s stage 9, which climbed three hors categorie ascents.

Of the race’s 11 remaining stages, perhaps four are suitable for bunch sprints. Perhaps three or four stages boast the hilly terrain that suits escapes. If his rivals do attack, Kittel is unsure whether his Quick-Step team will chase. Kittel has historically struggled in both mountainous and hilly terrain.

“[Breakaways] happened on Saturday when Matthews was in a big breakaway. He survived two hors categorie climbs and won the sprint,” Kittel said. “There is nothing I can do against it. For me I have to do my work now on the flat stages and get my points here and hope that is enough.”

The green jersey battle was upended during the opening week by the expulsion of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and the abandonment of Arnaud Demare (FDJ). Sagan, the five-time defending champion, won all of his titles due to cagy riding in select breakaways. Teams with pure sprinters often defeated Sagan in the flat kicks to the line. However he consolidated his points lead with intermediate sprints.

The last pure sprinter to win the jersey was Mark Cavendish in 2011.

The breakaway may be the only hope for both Greipel and Matthews due to Kittel and his Quick-Step team’s domination in the flat stages. Matthews finished a distant 13th on Tuesday’s stage, and was visibly dejected after arriving at his team bus. Greipel had one teammate with him during the final kilometer. Yet the big German appeared to lack an extra gear in the kick to the line.

After the stage Greipel’s Lotto-Soudal team manager Marc Sergeant told reporters that the team had put Greipel into perfect position for the finale. He said Greipel echoed the sentiment.

“He said the team worked really great, perfectly, they brought me to the perfect position — I was the only guy who didn’t do good,” Sergeant said.

If Kittel can claim the points competition he will be the first German to do so since 2001, when Erik Zabel won his last of six points competitions. Since winning the second stage, Kittel has maintained that the green jersey is his focus. With perhaps four more stages open for bunch sprints, Kittel said he is not taking his advantage for granted.

“The green jersey competition is by far not decided,” he said. “One missed chance, getting sick, can destroy it.”