Marcel Kittel half-threw, half-placed his bike against the Katusha-Alpecin bus when he arrived back after stage 4 of the Tour de France, as if he wanted to unleash his fury but suddenly thought better of it. The German had placed fifth, and while the frustration was clear to see, there wasn’t quite enough to warrant damaging an €8,000 piece of equipment.
Kittel dominated the sprints at last year’s Tour, collecting no fewer than five victories, but he has found life a little less straightforward this time around.
After placing third on the opening stage and puncturing late the following day, he could only manage fifth in Sarzeau. The arrow-straight final couple of kilometres were said to suit him better than the chaotic sprints seen on the opening two days, but in the end, the final few hundred metres were just as disorderly.
“I don’t think it’s super, super bad, at least I’m up there,” Kittel told reporters in Sarzeau.
“It’s just messy, like last year. I wanted to get out, I took full risks again, and went through the peloton. I saw [Nairo] Quintana 600 metres in front of me and other guys that blocked the road. That’s why I couldn’t find a way. That wasn’t only my problem but also others were glued in there. That’s just the Tour.”
Kittel was perfectly delivered to his five stage wins last year by a dominant Quick-Step Floors outfit, and while the sprints so far at this Tour have been more unruly, it’s his former teammates who have shown themselves to be the strongest. Fernando Gaviria, the rider who pushed Kittel down the pecking order and effectively forced him out of the team, has won two stages already.
“Quick-Step are really strong and they’re the big team to beat,” Kittel acknowledged, though he refused to lose heart.
“If you give up trying then you can go home. The Tour is three weeks long. Other riders – for example last year Groenewegen – have won after three weeks on the Champs Elysées [the final stage - Ed]. It’s a long way. There are some chances on the way to Paris and I want to use them.”