Paris the last chance for the sprinters
Opportunities have been hard to come by for John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) in this year’s Tour de France and for the second time in the race the 25-year-old was left frustrated. On the road to Oyonnax in stage 11 Tony Gallopin held off the peloton to claim the stage, with Degekolb taking second. Replace Gallopin with Ramunas Navardauskas and the scenario was repeated as Degenkolb once again finished second in Bergerac.
Once showered and dressed the German plunked himself down on the steps of the Giant-Shimano team bus as he tried to explained the day's events.
With the Pyrenees a distant shadow, the stage to Bergerac held huge importance in this year’s race. It may not have included a profile with a threat to the overall contenders, but with a long time trial and the final day's sprint into Paris, Bergerac was a last roll of the dice for a number of teams.
Giant-Shimano had begun this year’s Tour with gusto and success – Marcel Kittel won three out of the four opening stages. Today was Degenkolb’s chance though, and in the pouring rain he almost made it.
"The weather was really bad and not normal. My whole team were focussed on trying to do a good job to support me and I was really happy to get this chance. We said we’d go for it," he told reporters.
"In the final a lot of guys crashed and I was very lucky that I didn’t crash, but I lost all my teammate because they had problems with crashes - either they crashed by themselves or they had punctures. I’ve never seen so many punctures in a race, it was like fifty flat tires at least."
Isolated and with fractured rival leadouts all around, Degenkolb closed off from Navardauskas’s small advantage and set about ensuring he was well positioned. His effort was faultless as he held off Alexander Kristoff and Mark Renshaw. However, Navardauskas held on too, crossing the line seven second before the German.
Degenkolb’s opportunities in this year’s Tour are likely over. Stage 20 is one for the remaining time trial specialists and the final day jaunt into Paris will see Degenkolb revert to his role as leadout man for Kittel. Despite today’s loss Degenkolb calmly explained the plan for Paris – an indication of the professionalism and camaraderie he and Kittel display.
"My legs are good but if it’s a flat sprint like on the Champs Elysees then we should focus on Marcel. We should give him the opportunity to repeat his victory from last year. The first week when I had to suffer the pain it was a strange feeling because I wasn’t going with 100 per cent power, I was just trying to survive. Now the injury is fine and my legs are still good. I really hope that I can do a perfect leadout on Sunday."
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