It has been three years since Marcel Kittel last won more than one stage of the Tour de France. Kittel enjoyed two bumper seasons in 2013 and '14 with four stages apiece. But, a tough 2015, where he missed the race altogether, was followed by a comparatively lean 2016, where his one and only success was a photo finish victory ahead of Bryan Coquard.
"It was a long road to be back on that level," said Kittel. "I think that a career is always up and down. Of course, the moment when it is going good is always nicer than when it is not so good. In the end, what counts is that I can fight to come back to this moment, this level and to these victories. It means a lot to me."
"Failure is success if we learn from it," Malcolm Forbes, the founder of Forbes Magazine, once said. Aside from its convincing nature, what has been notable about Kittel's sprints at this year's race is how far back he has come to take them. Kittel attributed, in part, his success from this year as an extension of last year's Tour de France.
"For me, when you look at the sprints from last year, quite a few times I was a little bit early, and I got overtaken by Mark Cavendish. I guess that shows how important it is to make sure that you keep the right timing," said Kittel. "It's not just about pure team power, but riding smart and being up front in the right wheel at the right time. That maybe also makes the difference between a good and a very good sprinter.
"I don't take it for granted. I'm very happy that I'm in good condition at the moment and that I get the right support and I can get the victories in this way. "
Kittel's victory moves him ever closer to the putting back on the green jersey he took after his stage 2 win. He started the day 40 points behind the classification leader Arnaud Demare, and while the Frenchman took second behind him in the sprint, Kittel has closed the gap to 27 points. It sets up a potentially exciting tussle between the two for top honours in Paris. For now, points are not the priority, but stage wins. Although, the two go hand in hand.
"We will see. I think the situation is different to the last years, that's for sure," Kittel referred to the expulsion of Peter Sagan after stage 4. "I said already that I will only focus on stage wins for now, because that's also where you score the big points that are very important for the green jersey classification. In a few days or a week then we will see how the classification looks like. I won't give up, I have it in my focus, but I'm not pushing for it at all costs at the moment.