Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) finished third behind Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) in the opening sprint at the Tour de France but after his difficult start to the season and lack of a success, the result tasted almost as sweet as victory.
Kittel won four stages at the 2017 Tour de France while riding for Quick-Step Floors but has struggled to build a successful lead-out train at Katusha-Alpecin. He has won just twice, at Tirreno-Adriatico, but has often been left frustrated and doubting his ability after coming up short in a number of other sprints.
His third place in Fontenay-le-Comte blew away his doubts.
“My power was there, my speed was there. The result gives me confidence. This is just the first chance,” the German said after completing his day at anti-doping.
The sprint unfolded as Kittel and Katusha-Alpecin expected, allowing the German to execute his planned strategy.
“We had a meeting yesterday to talk about the finale and how we wanted to do it. It happened exactly as we expected,” he explained, replaying every detail of the sprint in his mind.
“Teams tried to block it after the fourth-category climb, so it was hard to move up. Then in the final three kilometres to the left turn, everything went crazy, with everyone trying to be at the front.
“I think I had a good position. I tried to defend it, then I gambled. I tried to come late, after the downhill into the last 500 metres. I gambled, but I think it was a good choice. Unfortunately I was a little bit too far back at the finish line.
More of the same on Sunday
Kittel praised Gaviria and his lead-out train, knowing that he had the benefit of the same lead-out last year when he rode for the Belgian team. However, he refuted the suggestion that he will change his tactic on stage 2 to La-Roche-sur-Yon, which also ends with a kick up to the line.
“Fernando has an incredibly strong team, I have say. 'Chapeau' to Fernando, too. They did a good job,” Kittel said, generously.
“Despite that, I don’t think we should change anything because it’s also going to be another uphill sprint on Sunday. It’s going to be difficult. You can’t ride from the front if you don't have the legs or the team Fernando does, so I'll approach it in the same way. Let's hope it ends with a slightly better result.”