Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) had to rely on his wits and experience to win stage 2 of the Tour de France. Sprint finishes are more often than not hectic, and the Liege finale did not fail to deliver.
Kittel and his lead-out men did not have as easy a run to the line as they might have imagined. The German was brought to within half a kilometre by Matteo Trentin and Fabio Sabatini, but he had to surf wheel after wheel to make his way through to the front, which he finally did with around 100 metres to the line.
"It's simply the fact that we had a plan that we couldn't really execute like we wanted, but I think that no team did like they wanted to do," Kittel said after the race. "In the end, we put our intelligence in the sprint to try to get the best out of it. You don't have to plan it; you just have to follow.
"I think going late was actually an advantage in a sprint that had a headwind."
The victory allows Kittel to reach the milestone of 10 stage wins, one behind Andre Greipel and two behind another compatriot Erik Zabel. He has a little way to go to reach the heady heights of the 30 of Mark Cavendish – the only other rider in this year's race to have won more stages than Kittel – but there are plenty of opportunities for him to add a few more to his number.
"I think I'm definitely in good shape and a good condition. I'm also really happy that I have a very strong team and a dedicated one," Kittel said. "There are sprints that are still ahead of us that are a really good chance for me. When we work like we did today, maybe a little bit better in the lead out, then I'm sure that we can go for a victory or more."
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Kittel has also put himself into the green jersey, with a healthy 63 points compared to Arnaud Demare's haul of 38 thus far. Kittel was second to Peter Sagan in last year's points classification, although that was down to Cavendish departing the race to prepare for the Olympic Games on the second rest day. It's a good start to his bid this time, but he says that Sagan would have to leave the race for him to have a chance at wearing the jersey in Paris.
"Of course I want to fight for it, I was in the points in the intermediate sprint," he said. "I will continue in the next days, but when you look to the last Tours de France, all the ones where Peter Sagan won [the green jersey], then there was always a sprinter that won four stages and didn't even have a small chance of going for the green jersey.
"Honestly, I don't hope that it happens, but the only way that you can win the jersey is by Peter Sagan getting sick or having to leave the race for some other reason. Otherwise there is no chance for a pure sprinter."
Kittel could, in theory, swap green for yellow in the coming days after moving himself into third place and just six seconds behind race leader Geraint Thomas due to his bonus seconds. Stage 3, however, finishes with a challenging uphill ramp and Kittel believes that he will likely have to put his own ambitions aside to help his teammates better suited to the finale in their effort for victory.
"I think this is going to be difficult tomorrow because the finish is quite difficult. I think it is similar to the second stage last year. I don't know it's hard for me to say," Kittel explained. "Tonight we will sit down with the sports directors and see. What I can say is that our team is here for stage victories. It's our main goal. We don't just have one guy who can go for victory tomorrow, and that's where our biggest chance at success lies, and I think that should be our priority."