The dusk finale on the Champs-Élysées provided a stirring backdrop for the last prize fight down for decision at the 2013 Tour de France as Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) confirmed his status as the fastest man in the race by seeing off André Greipel (Lotto Belisol) and Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) in the bunch sprint.
It was Kittel’s fourth stage win of the Tour and it was the third time that he has beaten Cavendish in the sprint over the past three weeks. For his part, Cavendish ends the Tour with two stage victories, his lowest total since he began amassing his current running tally of 25 back in 2008.
Cavendish was generous in his praise of Kittel after he lost out to the German in Tours during week two, describing him afterwards as the “next superstar” of sprinting. While Kittel attested to the mutual respect between the pair, there was no quarter asked or given on the Champs-Élysées, where Cavendish was defending an unbeaten record of four wins from four attempts.
“I was already hungry before today but it’s always nice to get such compliments from a sprinter like Mark,” Kittel said. “He’s a nice guy and he actually said good luck to me before the sprint today and I like that way of having a sporting competition.”
The sprint was a fiercely contested affair, and while the Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s Matteo Trentin led under the red kite, it was the Argos-Shimano train that led into the finishing straight. 250 metres from home, Kittel powered his way clear and while Cavendish and Greipel battled to get back on terms, they had no answer to the sheer force of the Argos-Shimano rider.
“For a lot of riders it’s a tour d’honneur – a lap of honour – but for me and the sprinters it was the last big goal of the Tour de France. I was really nervous and really concentrated, but my team worked very hard for me and it all paid off,” Kittel said.
Kittel’s haul of four stage wins is the most by a German in a single Tour since Dietrich Thurau claimed five in 1977, but he admitted afterwards that the historical resonance of his triumph had not registered. “It’s nice to know that, but for me it was just a goal to win as many sprints at this Tour as I could. I’m just very proud of what I’ve achieved here.”
The natural progression for a sprinter of Kittel’s quality is a concerted tilt at the points classification, perhaps next year, but on Sunday evening, he was content simply to enjoy the spoils of the campaign just passed. “It’s still 2013, I don’t have any thoughts about that at the moment,” he said.