Impressive Kittel sprints to his fourth stage win on Tour

A net gain of 57 points for the day means the German is in the box seat for the green jersey

The photofinish operators have had a busy Tour, what with the tyre-width finishes at Nuits-Saint-Georges and Chambery, but here they might as well have nipped off early for a sneaky Gauloises.

Marcel Kittel was untouchable from the instant he came out of Daniel McLay's slipstream with 250m to go, and with the rest of the sprinters unable to hold his wheel he ended up with a three-bike-lengths lead on John Degenkolb for his fourth stage win of this year's Tour.

With fewer sprinters in the mix now Arnaud Démare has left along with Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan, this was a clean sprint in spite of two right-angle bends in the final kilometre, with André Greipel's Lotto doing the bulk of the work only for the German to finish a disgruntled 11th.

Equally unhappy was Nacer Bouhanni, who had a perfect run-in but ended up sixth. Bouhanni was later fined and had a minute added to his time after video footage appeared to show him punching A Quick-Step Floors rider earlier on the stage.


Kittel has been utterly dominant and though he is far from Cavendish’s career stage win total of 30, he is heading for territory which was the Manxman’s province in his most prolific years, 2009 and 2011, when he won six and five stages respectively in a single Tour.

After McLay’s fine debut last year, he is experiencing the sprint equivalent of a difficult second album. Here, he committed sprint suicide by leading out his fellows at 350m to go meaning that they all had the benefit of his slipstream, but there are times when a sprinter is simply in place too early – he does not want to stall and there is very little to do other than go with the flow.

As he warmed down afterwards, McLay said: "350 metres is too long for anyone. I felt that the last few sprints I've hesitated, waited too long, which is not good for my head and I needed to show the team I needed to take it on a bit, although maybe 350m was too optimistic. I eased into it without kicking, I saw I was passing Kittel, but [Quick-Step's] Fabio] Sabatini was coming back and I thought maybe if he gets on the wheel of Saba, maybe I'll be lucky and get 10 or 15 metres. But Kittel took the wheel and blasted past at the end."

As others such as Cavendish have found in the past, successful sprinters develop their own winning dynamic and that, McLay feels, is what is making the difference for Kittel this year.

Pure speed

“I think he’s always had the pure speed and power, but when you start winning you have the confidence. He’s got the confidence to wait, he’s got the confidence to go long. When he starts winning, the other guys want his wheel, they’re not looking to be in front of him, you get a bit of space so he’s just on a roll.”

In 1994, the Tour riders were sent the direct route between these two Dordogne towns for a time trial, dominated outrageously by Miguel Indurain. Twenty three years on, the race meandered from one to the other in an extended tourist commercial, past châteaux and vineyards, for a region which really should not need to remind the world of its sumptuous beauty.

The race was led through it all by two Frenchmen, the seasoned Yoann Offredo and the newcomer Élie Gesbert. Both belong to second division teams that have benefited from wildcard entries and – although Gesbert's Fortuneo squad have a chance of a sprinter win with McLay – both have been regular participants in the suicide breaks that mark sprint stages such as this.

Gesbert has already made headlines this week for setting off the fire alarm in his hotel, although this is not quite as rock’n’roll as it sounds as he did it by leaving a towel on the radiator.

With no question as to who is the fastest sprinter here, the issues now are how far Kittel will push his winning streak and whether he will carry the green jersey to Paris.

After Wednesday’s sprint stage to Pau, there are two likely mass finishes, in Romans-sur-Isère on stage 16, and Paris on stage 21, with stage 19 to Salon-de-Provence one of those that could go the way of a breakaway.

As for the green jersey, Kittel's rivals had a day to forget – the Australian Michael Matthews most of all. To compete with Kittel he has to at least finish in the first 10 of the flat finishes, but here his leadout train went missing at the key moment – which is surprising given that several of them have had ample experience in the past with Kittel and Degenkolb – leaving "Bling", as Matthews is known, feeling distinctly unshiny.

He is more than 100 points behind Kittel meaning he will need to win a hilly stage somewhere with Kittel absent to stand any chance, but a net gain of 57 points for the day means the German is in the box seat. Guardian Service