After two top-five finishes over the past three days at the Tour de France, it’s clear John Degenkolb’s form and confidence are on the rise following his return from a pre-season training crash that nearly cost him a finger.
On Saturday the 27-year-old Giant-Alpecin sprinter finished fourth in the bunch kick won by Mark Cavedish (Dimension Data) at the end of stage 14 in Villars-les-Dombes Parc des Oiseaux, then he backed it up today with another fourth-place finish during the stage in Berne won by Peter Sagan (Tinkoff).
The two results are Degenkolb’s best since returning from the January crash, and Giant-Alpecin coach Marc Reef told Cyclingnews they are an important milestone in Degenkolb’s return to the top of his game.
"I think it is very important," Reef said after stage 16 in Berne. "Three days ago already it was very important that he could do a sprint again, because the first week wasn’t that great. He was there, but he could not really do a sprint or could not follow the wheels. But I think from the moment three days ago that he was there again and he could do a sprint, it gave him such a boost already."
The finish in Berne was tricky, with a short cobbled climb in the final kilometre after the peloton had a difficult day chasing down three-time world time trial champion Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) from the breakaway. The finale was tailor-made for Degenkolb, who has the skills to get over the climb with enough power left over to take on the likes of Sagan and stage 16 runner-up Alexander Kristoff (Katusha).
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Degenkolb thanked his team for its support following the stage, but said he still lacks the confidence needed for victory.
"In the end I was not confident enough to make a good position in the final, in the sprint," he told Cyclingnews. "I’m very thankful that the team had the trust in me again. I’m just missing a bit of confidence, and then I’m up there. I have the feeling I can beat the other guys, but if you’re boxed in …"
While Degenkolb may have felt like he let his team down in the finale, Reef saw another welcome sign of improvement from his rider.
"With a final like this, with the cobbles and the uphill in the last kilometres, it’s again a step up," Reef said. "He's showing that everyday his shape is growing and he’s improving."
Degenkolb’s next chance for victory will come Sunday on the Champs-Élysées, but first he’s got to make it through four difficult days in the Alps. Reef said he expects Degenkolb to be there for the next sprinters’ showdown in Paris.
"For him it’s only getting better and better, and also uphill yesterday he was with the best 50 guys going up the mountain," Reef said. "So in that case it’s not bad for him. He’s getting more race days, and of course it would be nice if he could sprint again for victory on the Champs-Élysées."