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Marcel Kittell (Argos-Shimano) savours his podium time
First Orica bus, then Veelers crash distract from German's talent
A debut stage win and a first yellow jersey of a rider's blossoming career were perhaps never more so overshadowed than when Marcel Kittel claimed the opening stage of the this year's Tour de France in Corsica.
And the German had to wait a further nine days of racing until he could bask in Tour glory as he muscled his way to the win in Saint-Malo on Tuesday. This time there were no team buses caught under the winning gantry and no confusion over the location of the finishing straight. There was a crash, with Kittel's teammate coming together and losing out to the tarmac and Mark Cavendish but overall, this was the win that Kittel wanted, a confirmation of his growing stature as he took on and beat the world's best on the world's greatest stage.
"I'm very proud that today I could show how fast I am, how strong my team is and how well we work together," he said in his winner's press conference.
Kittel turned professional with Skil Shimano in 2011, staying with the team through its transformation to Argos-Shimano, and has rapidly become one of the most exciting sprinters on the scene. The German claimed 18 victories in his debut season and although last year's debut Tour was ruined by illness and injury, he has repaid his team in kind this time around.
"Having a Dutch team working me, I'm just very proud on how we work together, and how we care for each other. Not just on the bike, but also off it as well," he said.
"I think it's not a matter of being from The Netherlands or being German, or whatever, I'm just enjoying being together with the boys and I'm feeling a bit closer now to The Netherlands since coming to the team."
Today's win was indeed a credit to the team as well as Kittel's fast twitch muscles, as sprinters' teams battled with those of the overall contenders to take control in a wind-swept, technical final 20km.
"The preparation for the final started 15 kilometres before the finish and everyone was trying to be in front and even teams that don't have a sprinter were trying to sit on the front to avoid crashes. In the end that just makes it more difficult and dangerous because there are even more riders, but the team did a great job and I'm just very proud of the way we stayed together and worked together."
"The boys brought me with maybe 1000 metres to go, really to the front and it was actually easy to sit there and wait for the last moment to sprint."
And of the crash that saw teammate Tom Veelers and Mark Cavendish collide inside the final 400 meters, Kittel chose to stay impartial, and not lay blame at the feet of the Omega Pharma fast man.
"First of all I saw the crash on video and it was very unlucky that they bumped into each other. Tom was exiting the leadout, Cavendish tried to pass him on the right and then they touched handlebars. Tom had no control and lost it. I can't imagine that it was on purpose because it was a very hectic situation and it was just the last moment of the sprint. Sometimes that's just something that happens."