After a single day racing in pink, Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) may have lost the maglia rosa of Giro d’Italia leader to Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), but the maglia rossa of Giro points leader remains firmly in the German’s grasp.
With back-to-back stage wins in the Netherlands and 106 points to his name, Kittel is already a whopping 26 points ahead Dutchman Maarten Tjallingi (LottoNL-Jumbo), whilst Elia Viviani (Team Sky) is a distant third at 53.
The maglia rosa, though, is no longer in the German sprinter’s power, and unlike Dumoulin, Kittel has no chance of a second spell in lead this year, given he lost over eight minutes by the finish of stage 4.
Already in trouble on the first of Tuesday’s two third category climbs, Kittel told reporters that he had relinquished his hold on the overall lead for good, some 25 kilometres from the line.
When the third, unclassified climb with its viciously tough final ramps hove into view, therefore, Kittel instantly opted to take things calmly rather than engage in a futile battle for what was already clearly lost.
The maglia rossa of points leader, though already Kittel’s since stage 2, remains the German’s. And at the stage 4 finish, the German looked tired when he crossed the line, but by no means out for the count. As Kittel said alter, there could well be more victories in the days to come.
“When the other teams really started to go all out in the last part of the stage, my legs were already on the limit,” Kittel said. “Everybody knew that there was a steep climb coming up and my decision was clear.
“I’m just not made for those sorts of climbs, they are too hard for me. But I was very happy to be able to wear pink for at least one day, and in Italy too.”
Although Friday’s stage 7 certainly looks like it could end in a bunch sprint, Kittel was wary about over-stating his chances on Wednesday’s long grind northwards through terrain the Giro’s route book cheerfully describes as “constantly undulating up to the last 30 kilometres.”
Given the stage is the second longest of the entire race, at 233 kilometres, and the final kilometre is slightly uphill and has some cobbled sections, Kittel’s caution about taking a 14th stage win of his career and fifth in the Giro d’Italia to celebrate his birthday on Wednesday is perhaps understandable.
“The first part of the stage is not so difficult, but it could be a very tough final,” Kittel said. “We’ll have to see what the wind direction is like, and how the other teams are handling the racing. It could be a surprisingly tough day.
“Today [stage four] was too hard for me, but I was really happy to be able to enjoy the lead for one day. Now I’ve got red.”
Although it remains unclear whether Kittel will race all the way to Turin, there is certainly a recent historical precedent for success with the points jersey for a Quick Step sprinter in the Giro d’Italia. Back in 2013, Mark Cavendish completed his ‘set’ of Grand Tour points victories by taking the Giro’s maglia rossa for the Belgian squad.