After losing out to Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) on stage 3 of Paris-Nice, Quick-Step Floors' Marcel Kittel paid tribute to the Irishman's breakthrough win before signalling his intent to bounce back on stage 5 – the next time the sprinters of the race will clash.
Kittel finished fourth in the technical sprint into Chalon-Sur-Saône after a relatively calm day of racing in this year's 'Race to the Sun'.
The German found himself with just two teammates to lead him out in the final and had no response when Bennett burst past to take his first WorldTour win.
"I can honestly say that I was a bit disappointed with the result. I was expecting more. In the end Bennett had a smart race. He came from the back, which was the smart move on this finish," Kittel told Cyclingnews.
Kittel admitted that he had been beaten by the better sprinter on the day. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) and John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) rounded out the top three.
"We were taken by surprise and we missed some manpower with the headwind. When I went there wasn't much more to accelerate with. I just kept my position. For Bennett it was a very important win and definitely a breakthrough. Again he was strong and smart, and that's how you win races."
The trek into Chalon-sur-Saône was littered with road furniture, and Dylan Groenewegen (Team LottoNl-Jumbo) was a victim, crashing on a tight right-hand corner. He crossed the finish line several minutes down before tossing his bike against the LottoNL-Jumbo team bus and slamming the door shut behind him.
"It wasn't great with the roundabouts," Kittel added.
"That meant you needed a good position in the final 5km. We did an OK job, but when you look at the final for today for example, no team had full leadouts. Everyone was left with one or two guys in the final 2,000 metres.. With that said, we were there in the final. We could have had one more guy in the final 1,000 metres but that's something I won't complain about. We have to make that a goal in the next stages."
Tuesday's stage was the first time the leadout trains of Paris-Nice have clashed after two weather-disrupted stages reduced the bunch to a two-up sprint on stage 1 and a group of just over 40 on stage 2. No single team was able to wrestle control of the peloton on the final of stage 3, with Kittel's Quick-Step going shoulder-to-shoulder with a number of rivals.
"A world-class train needs world-class riders, and there's not so many who can do that and keep it together," Kittel responded when asked if the WorldTour sprint trains had cancelled one another out.
"We have some really good guys in the team but we don't always race together. Sometimes you see a mix and sprinters sometimes end up alone. There are so many good sprinters for these races that it's always difficult to win."
Kittel and the sprinters have one more chance to shine, on stage 5, with a time trial and the mountains occupying the remaining days of this year's race. Once Paris-Nice is over, Kittel will announce if he will race Milan-San Remo.
"I'll decide that with the team after Paris-Nice. We have one more chance here, the day after the time trial."