Stage 3 of the Tour de France was the third missed opportunity for the Etixx-QuickStep team to win in a stage that suited their abilities. After Marcel Kittel finished as runner-up behind Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) in a bunch sprint on stage 1, Julian Alaphilippe fell just short of winning the uphill sprint from World champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) on stage 2. During the long third stage from Granville to Angers it was Cavendish who won again while Kittel was positioned way too far to be a factor. He finished seventh.
The Etixx-QuickStep sprint train seemed to have spent their energy too early and in the final kilometre Kittel lacked support. After crossing the line a frustrated Kittel didn't talk with the media. He quickly freshened up in the bus and then rode off on his bike to the nearby team hotel. Team manager Patrick Lefevere understood that Kittel wasn't a happy man. "He's a winner. He came here to win," Lefevere said.
Undoubtedly it's bitter for Lefevere and his Etixx-QuickStep team that the rider they let go is now back to his winning ways."Cavendish is a different type of sprinter than Marcel. He's got a big jump in the legs. He must be very good because last year he wasn't capable of doing this," Lefevere said.
When analysing his own team, Lefevere was clear. "I saw that we did everything wrong. The team wasn't well together. They probably were way too nervous. With this finish it was possible to wait until the final two or three kilometres before storming forward. Kittel has always been used to, with his previous victories in the Tour, waiting very long before moving to the front and here we're doing the completely opposite."
Lefevere analysed the final kilometres. "On a certain moment Iljo went flat out at five kilometres from the finish. Then Tony [Martin] and [Petr] Vakoc came. At two kilometres from the finish [Maximiliano] Richeze was riding full gas with [Fabio] Sabatini and Kittel behind him. Then I knew that they wouldn't make it," he said.
"It has to be better tomorrow. The boys gave the best they had and we're not going to slam our first on the table. We'll have to look back at the finale and try to look at where it went wrong. It's easy to explain how things should happen, especially when you lose. You had to do this, and you had to do that. Then again, at one moment there's such a stream of info that it's unclear what to do. I don't think that much info was needed on this type of finish. They had to keep waiting. I don't know really. One thing's for sure: they weren't together."
When asked by a journalist whether he wasn't too mild for his team after this 'failure' Lefevere didn't appreciate the tone of the question, sensing a hunt for a strong title in the newspaper. He clearly felt it was way too early to shoot off his team or come to conclusions and eventually walked off.
On Tuesday the Etixx-QuickStep team receives a third chance to get a bunch sprint victory with Kittel in a relatively flat stage from Saumur to Limoges.