Marcel Kittel and his Giant-Shimano lead-out train ran full steam ahead in the first week of the Tour de France, ushering him to three stage wins in the first four days of racing, but since then there have been few opportunities for the sprinters. Stage 15 to Nîmes was one of the rare flat days in the second half of the Tour, but the Giant-Shimano team came up short.
Kittel was blunt about the stage, taking to Twitter to say, "Yeah, well, it was shit today."
In the team's press release, he was a bit more diplomatic, describing the chaotic final kilometer, where Omega Pharma-QuickStep succeeded in reeling in the escapees in the final dozen meters, but then a sheaf of sprinters launched off the front of the field and hurtled toward the line in a bullseye grouping.
"In a situation like that where it is kind of every rider for himself, it is near impossible to see who will be in position," Kittel stated. "You just have to focus on finding a good wheel. The team did a good job and worked hard to get me to the front at the end and in position but it didn’t work out for me today."
Kittel had a crash on Friday's stage 13, but felt no ill-effects from the fall.
"I am feeling good though and feel fine after falling the other day which is promising for the final week. First though, we have a rest day which will be a welcomed break before the mountains start again."
Just what happened to Giant-Shimano's train is something the team will be examining before they have another opportunity to get the cars back on the rails on stage 19 after the Pyrenees.
Roy Curvers also felt the stage was chaotic, with an intense storm descending upon the field in the final 25km, and although the skies cleared, the final 5km were riddled with traffic circles.
"With the weather conditions making it hard we just try to focus on each other and the race, but it is hard to plan and also to stay together when it’s like it was today," Curvers said.
"The best we could do today was get Marcel into position for the sprint. We did this but you get a kind of washing machine effect and it is easy to get boxed in."
Koen De Kort described the finish as "racing on ice".
"Normally we stay together and that is our strong point as a team but at the end it was not possible as every time we went into a roundabout we had to slow right down and then sprint out of it again.
"Slowing like this for all the roundabouts also played into the hands of the break as they go at nearly the same speed as us. We were a few men short but still managed to position Marcel OK – Roy took us up with two kilometres to go, then I took over before Tom [Dumoulin] tried to get him in the best possible position into the final kilometre.
"Before the final, we rode well and were always well-positioned in the crosswinds and stayed together. This was good but then at the end we just lacked a few guys."
The sprinters have two more opportunities to battle: stage 19 to Bergerac, and the grand finale on the Champs-Élysées in Paris next Sunday.
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