A year ago, John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) wouldn't have been happy about coming fourth in a sprint stage at the Tour de France. However, the former Paris-Roubaix and Milan-San Remo winner was delighted with his result in the stage 14 finish on Villars-les-Dombes.
Degenkolb has been well out of it in the previous sprint finishes but was right in the wheel of stage winner Mark Cavendish as they rounded the final curve. The German faded a little towards the end, but still managed fourth – the best result of his season so far.
"The final was pretty good for me. I was in a good position, it was very hectic and very chaotic again, and I was very happy to do a sprint until the line because it was the thing that has been missing in the last couple of sprint stages. I'm happy to be up there and also with the result.
Following a potentially career-ending injury to his hand in a training crash in January, Degenkolb has only been racing since May. He has tried to pack in the racing since then but was far from his peak form when the race began two weeks ago. Trying to get up to speed at the world's biggest bicycle race, where the peloton's top riders are all at their best has not been an easy task for Degenkolb, but his result on stage 14 is a major boost.
"[It has been] very challenging," he told Cyclingnews as he warmed down outside his team bus. "Obviously, I wasn't 100 per cent when I started the Tour, and that's pretty tough to be racing and not in top shape. It starts with your basic level, and it also comes to your punch in the final and your self-confidence. I'm back on track, and that's nice.
"My legs are getting better and better. In the beginning, I was missing a lot of self-confidence and power in the last few hundred metres to be up there. For me, this was now a very important step to having this self-confidence again and to make the right decisions at the right moment. I'm happy about that, there's still another rest day to come, and there are some stages to try something before the Champs Elysees."
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Form has not been the only problem for Degenkolb; he has also had to adjust to riding with his injured finger. He nearly lost his part of index finger on his left hand in the training crash and is still riding with a split to protect it. The finger in question is key as he needs it not only to break but to change gear. After two months of racing, Degenkolb told Cyclingnews that he is getting used to sprinting with the handicap.
"I have definitely adapted to it. My reaction time is good again, and I feel very comfortable again."
The chances for the sprinters are quickly diminishing with only two real opportunities remaining on Monday in Bern and the final stage in Paris. Quickly gaining in confidence, Degenkolb remains positive that he can challenge for his first ever Tour de France stage win.
"I will give my best, and I think that nothing is impossible."
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Tour de France stage 14 highlights video