Skil Shimano’s young German sprinter, Marcel Kittel, winner of three stages in the recent Tour of Poland, today confirmed his huge promise by sprinting to victory in Stage 7 in Talavera de la Reina for the biggest win of the 23-year-old’s brief career, in a finale overshadowed by a crash involving Garmin-Cervelo’s Tyler Farrar that brought down a number of other riders.
Speaking after his maiden Grand Tour stage win, Kittel’s first instinct was to thank race organisers for having given his UCI Professional Continental squad one of the wild card entries to this year’s race.
“I can’t describe the feeling of winning here,” he said. “It’s wonderful. We’ve been invited here and it feels good to be able to pay the organiser back for the faith he’s had in us. To win a stage at a Grand Tour was a dream for me and for Skil-Shimano,” he added.
Reflecting on what had made his win possible today, Kittel said: “At the end, it was my speed and my team. Without a team, I wouldn’t have been able to show my speed to the world. I’m so proud of the team. I can trust these boys. They’ve worked at 120% for me today. They’ve done a perfect job. Our biggest goal was to save energy.
“My team-mates didn’t waste any until they went to the front to set up the sprint. Everybody was happy that it was an easy stage after the last two days were really hard. We all knew that we’d have a hard fight at the end.”
Marcel Kittel takes his maiden Grand Tour stage win (Copyright: Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
Unsurprisingly, Kittel had no inkling of the crash behind him until after he had crossed the line ahead of Liquigas Canondale’s Peter Sagan, winner in Cordoba yesterday, who said: “The last kilometre was a huge chaos because so many people wanted to sprint. I wanted to take Kittel’s wheel because I thought he was the most dangerous. I didn’t manage to get my spot there. I went maybe a bit too late. Never mind. Honour to Kittel for the victory. I wear the green jersey but it’s going to be difficult to keep it with the coming mountainous stages.”
Kittel’s team mate, Tom Veelers, describing the lead out, said: “It was complicated at the end because of the curves and the roundabouts but we’ve done it well. Koen De Kort took the command of the bunch before the last at the 1-km to go mark. He kept it till 600 metres to go.
“It was a bit too early, so I waited a bit before going frankly and giving way to Marcel Kittel 200 metres before the line. His power finished the job. This is his strong point. When he accelerates, he’s irresistible. For the Skil-Shimano team, the Vuelta is already a success but it doesn’t mean that it’s over for us. We’ve got more ambitions.”
Skil Shimano pull at the front (Copyright: Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
The crash, 100 metres or so from the line, happened when Farrar and Vacansoleil-DCM's Polish rider, Michal Golas, drifted towards the centre of the road and made contact. As they lay on the ground, a number of other riders crahsed into them at speed.
Both managed to finish the stage but were taken to hospital to be checked over, and it remains to be seen whether they will take to the start tomorrow.
Several of the main GC contenders, riding near the front of the bunch to try and keep out of trouble, instead found themselves caught up in the aftermath of the crash, the last thing they needed with a couple of tough days ahead in the mountains.
“I’ve tried to remain at the head of the race to avoid trouble,” explained Lampre-ISD’s Michele Scarponi, runner-up to Alberto Contador in May’s Giro d’Italia.
“I was well positioned in the sprint, exactly where you can’t expect such a crash to happen. But I couldn’t avoid it. I’ve got injuries at my right arm and pain in my left ankle but there are only bruises, apparently.”
His compatriot, defending champion Vincenzo Nibali, who remains in third position overall, was in turn brought crashing to the ground. “Michele Scarponi was in front of me. The bunch was going at a high speed. The crash has put to the ground many riders, myself included. It was inevitable. It could have had worse consequences,” he reflected. Later, the Liquigas-Cannondale team doctor said that he had treated Nibali for severe bruising to his hip and buttock.
Jurgen Van den Broeck of Omega Pharma-Lotto, who crashed out of the Tour de France last month with a broken collarbone, was glad to have got away unscathed today. “I couldn’t avoid the crash and I’ve been scared,” he said. “A wave came from the right and pushed us towards the barricades. One of my knees hurts a bit but nothing too bad. I’m relieved.”
A four-man break had got away early in today’s stage, including two Cofidis riders, one of whom, Luis Mate, admitted after the finish, “This wasn’t the most appropriate day for breaking away. That was one of the very few opportunities for the sprinters to go for the win.
Stage 7 breakaway (Copyright: Tour of Spain/Graham Watson)
“But the Vuelta is a race of a high international level, so as long as we have a gram of strength, we have to attack. Nobody knows what can happen.
“Those who never try will never know what they can achieve or not. It wouldn’t have been the first time that a breakaway would have turned out to be successful in a stage dedicated to sprinters.
“Personally and as a team, we have prepared the Vuelta very well. David Moncoutié is very well and Cofidis is always present in the breakaways.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.