Skil-Shimano powerhouse Marcel Kittel has held on to the overall lead at the Four Days of Dunkirk, winning his second stage in a row on Thursday. Crossing the line in first position in another bunch sprint at the end of stage two, the German moreover reclaimed his honour after having been accused of getting pushed by a teammate in the finale of the first stage, which he had won ahead of Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha).
"Of course, this second victory means even more to me," explained the 22-year-old to L'Equipe. "I was really offended when they accused me of cheating. I wanted to show that I also have honour."
It was the Russian Katusha team around second-placed Galimzyanov that claimed they had seen Kittel getting a push prior to his first victory on Wednesday, but no evidence in the form of photos or TV images could be found to back up their allegations. Kittel and his teammates denied having cheated.
"They all assured me that nothing happened," said Skil-Shimano directeur sportif Christian Guiberteau. "I want to believe them."
The German moreover said that he had been on his own in the last kilometre to the line. "It would have been impossible to get a push. I was disappointed and sad to hear these accusations, even more so as there was no proof," added Kittel, who finally talked things over with Galimzyanov during stage two. "He said he was sorry and assured me that the case was closed."
Stage two on Thursday included a cobblestone sector, to be passed three times on a final circuit around the finish in Iwuy. The bunch caught all the late attacks in time for the flamme rouge, and Kittel showed once again his superiority in the sprint that will certainly elevate him in status. The German is an excellent rouleur, having win the bronze medal in the U23 time trial Worlds in Melbourne last year, and also has a great finishing speed.
Defending his overall lead in Dunkerque, however, is not something Kittel is looking at realistically. Stage three on Friday will tackle some steep hills and may see a more complete rider take over the classification. "There are only few chances that I will still be in the game," Kittel said.