47 years after Rudi Altig, another German claims opening Tour stage
25-year-old Marcel Kittel has already taken 11 wins this season before today, but there could be no doubt the Argos-Shimano pro valued his 2013 victory number 12 the most, saying that netting his first ever Tour de France stage win made Saturday's triumph ‘by far the greatest day of my life.’
“I’m speechless, I’m still trembling,” Kittel, who captured his first Grand Tour stage win in the Vuelta in 2011 but who was poleaxed in last year’s Tour debut by stomach problems and abandoned on stage five, said afterwards. “This is something really outstanding, I have to thank my team and so many people who have helped me net this success.”
Kittel was also responsible for history repeating itself: 47 years after Rudi Altig took the last flat opening Tour stage, back in 1966, the next time the Tour's first stage ended on similar terrain, thanks to Kittel it was another German netted the win and the yellow jersey.
However, the Argos-Shimano pro could hardly have taken it in more different circumstances, with a major pile up in the closing kilometres leaving him and a reduced field of riders ahead of the bulk of the pack - with several key challengers, including top favourite Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), as well Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) stranded behind by the crash and out of the fight through no fault of their own.
“It was a nervous stage, that was why the crash happened,” Kittel said. “Everything was chaotic and when I saw the crash was happening, I looked around for Greipel and Cavendish.”
“That was the moment when we decided to take the lead even if it was a bit early and it worked well. Then when I saw [Alexandre] Kristoff [Katusha] going for it, about 200 metres to go, I went full gas, all out to the finish line.”
“When I started to be a professional [in 2011] I saw that I could do something in the sprints and then when I started winning” - in stage three of the Tour of Langkawi that year - “things improved steadily, and got better and better. This year I won the Scheldeprijs and now it’s a stage of the Tour.”
Asked if he knew there was a bus blocking the finish line, the third year pro said “I had no idea. At about six or seven kilometres from the finish, my team director was yelling directly in my ear, but the crowds were so loud and everything was so noisy I couldn’t hear anything and I had no idea what was happening. I’m pretty happy they could tow the bus away and we could finish.”
Kittel kept his head on his shoulders though, when he said that neither the green jersey, one of the multiple jerseys he ended up with as a result of Saturday’s win, including the Best Young Riders lead, was now an objective - “I’m too young for that” - nor did he expect to keep the yellow for long.
“I’m looking forward to the next few stages, but they aren’t really the ideal profile for me,” he said. “And I’m definitely not going to keep the yellow until Paris.”
But Saturday’s win, either way, remains a high point in his career, and proof, Kittel said that “you can win clean in the Tour, and I’m proud of that. This win shows it’s possible and my team also show its possible, too.”