Marvellous Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) has again underlined his very strong bid for the title of world's best sprinter by winning the Tour's final stage on the Champs-Élysées in Paris on Sunday evening.
For the second year in a row, the German came away from the race having won four stages, and, again for the second year in a row, he also 'bookended' the Tour de France by winning both the first and last stages.
Coming into the final few hundred metres of the eighth and final seven-kilometre circuit based on the Champs-Élysées and the Place de la Concorde, with a loop around the Arc de Triomphe on each lap, like last year, it looked as though Norway's Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) was going to be able to take his third stage win at this year's Tour.
But steadily, and then more quickly, Kittel edged his nose in front, timing his sprint to perfection to take the victory, while behind them, Friday's stage winner, Ramunas Navardauskas, had infiltrated the sprinters' lead-outs, and the Garmin rider took third, relegating a fast-finishing André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) to fourth.
"My strategy for the sprint was to not start too early," revealed a delighted Kittel. "So, when Kristoff passed me, he'd already had a little more time to accelerate and to gain some speed, so that was the reason I think I was a bit behind him at first.
"When I noticed that he couldn't go any faster, that was the moment when I had the chance to pass him again. But it was close. I wasn't sure I'd really have enough at the end, but I'm super happy that I did.”
Asked whether he should be considered the best sprinter in the world by virtue of twice having won the so-called 'sprinters' world championships' on Paris' famous avenue, Kittel was typically modest.
"It means a lot to have been able to win the amount of stages we have in the last two years," said the Giant-Shimano sprinter, "and yes, I, personally, can be very confident that I belong among the fastest guys, and that you have to count on me in the sprint.
"But mistakes can always happen, like in the sprint to Reims," Kittel said, referring to stage 6 when Kittel's teammates had been unable to put him in a position to contest the stage, and the win went to his compatriot, Greipel, of the rival Lotto-Belisol squad. “"But, under normal conditions, I think, in combination with my team, we can always do a very good job."
Asked whether he realised that there had been seven German stage wins at the 2014 Tour – four for Kittel, one for Greipel and two for Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) – and that it was a record for Germany, Kittel's face lit up.
"I think that's a big signal for all the fans at home in Germany," he said, "and a big signal to the media at home in Germany, without going into too much detail about that now [Germany's national broadcasters haven't attended the race in recent years in light of the sport's continued problems with doping]. I think everyone can be very proud. It's great to see so many good German riders here, and it shows that German cycling belongs at the highest level, and that's awesome."