As Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) became the first rider of this year's Tour de France to take a second stage win, Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) took his second straight top-five finish in a bunch sprint. With Kittel dominating the sprint competition so far, Kristoff said that the German would have to get things wrong for the others to usurp him in a bunch gallop.
"Kittel is the fastest rider in the Tour. We know it for some years now he's been the fastest. He must f*ck things up a little bit if we're going to beat him," Kristoff said, adding that second-placed Arnaud Demare (FDJ) is in the driving seat in the points competition.
"At the moment, Demare is the favourite. He's looking very strong and took points on the hard stage three, but you never know what happens. Everybody can have a bad day."
Kristoff managed fourth on the day, adding to his second place on the uphill finish into Longwy during stage 3. He was well positioned and had two riders with him inside the final kilometre, but some miscommunication in the lead-out and a stray bit of rubbish meant that things did not go quite to plan in the end.
"I slid with my front wheel [on some paper]. I was a bit lucky that I didn't crash and then I lost some speed. In the end, I was on the wheel of Rick, and I was waiting for him to start, but it did not happen," he explained. "I don't know what was wrong, but I will have to ask him what happened because I was waiting for quite a long time in the sprint to lead me out.
"In the last metres, I tried to get Rick [Zabel] to start. I don't know if the legs were not there because he was more or less sitting on the wheel of [Andre] Greipel, then when I wanted to go, I had go round him first and then I had to take too much wind, so it was not perfect."
It was not the best of build-ups to the Tour de France for Kristoff, with illness forcing him out of the Criterium du Dauphine in June. However, he remains confident of taking home a stage win by the end of the three weeks.
"I did not feel bad in the sprint today. I lacked a little bit of the speed of the others, and maybe you saw that, but if the race day is a little bit harder than it was today and a little bit later in the race then I think I could take it to the fastest guys."