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Kittel praises team after Tour de France victory

Marcel Kittel hailed his Giant-Shimano team as they led him to victory on the Tour de France's first stage for the second year running.

"I'm actually very proud that we won again. I have to say thank you to my boys. They worked very hard for me," Kittel said after he had been up to claim his prize. "I think the advantage for me today was the team. When you look at the last 5km, we were for sure the strongest team. We could do it how we wanted and that was important for the victory."

A crash between Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Simon Gerrans (Orica Green-Edge) left less than a handful of sprinters battling it out to be the first across the finish line. Kittel managed to negotiate the tricky uphill finish into Harrogate perfectly to earn his second stint in the Tour's yellow jersey.

Kittel was the undeniable winner in last year's opening stage, but the ride to Harrogate would prove to be a different challenge. The three categorised climbs split the bunch on a number of occasions, with Cavendish getting dropped at one stage. Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) even tried to upset the apple cart by going on the attack in the final kilometres, but Kittel didn't look like he was in trouble as his team reeled him back in.

"I have to say that it was perfect for me as a pure sprinter today," he said. "The race was like we wanted to have it. It was fast up hill but not too fast. I think a lot of guys stayed in the peloton. I think on these roads it is very important to stay at the front and that is what we did as a team."

As an added bonus, Kittel was awarded the jersey by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. It was a nice little aside for the stage winner, who was happy to meet one more than the other. "I really enjoyed that moment and it is something that maybe gives a little bit extra to the day. Before the stage, I said that it was a goal to be with Kate on the podium and of course Harry and William."

It wasn't all plain sailing for the riders on the opening day. An estimated two million people lined the road all the way from Leeds to Harrogate, with huge crowds congregating the day's three climbs. For the most part, the crowds stayed a safe distance away for the riders, but Kittel says it was not always the case.

"There were some moments where I thought we would crash because of a spectator who was taking pictures and didn't see that he was in the middle of the road," said Kittel. "I think it is important to tell the people how happy we were to have them there, it was an amazing crowd, but they really have to take care and stay off the road."

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