Marcel Kittel of Argos Shimano came round Lotto Belisol's André Greipel to win Stage 10 of the Tour de France as Germany's fastest sprinters went head to head in Saint-Malo this afternoon. In a frenetic finale Omega Pharma-Quick Step's Mark Cavendish brushed Kittel's team mate Tom Veelers, the latter crashing to the ground, but Cavendish staying upright to claim third.
After taking it easy for much of the day, It was a nervous peloton that came into the final 25 kilometres of the stage as the race hit a coastline buffeted by stromg winds.
With a number of teams battling for position, the pace towards the end was flat out, but the race stayed together and Team Sky's Chris Froome retains the race leader's yellow jersey. The first wearer of it in this year's race, Kittel, becomes the first man to win two stages in this year's race.
Following an explosive weekend in the Pyrenees and yesterday’s rest day in Saint-Nazaire, the 100th edition of the race resumed today with a 197km stage from Saint-Gildas-des-Bois to Saint-Malo, with a bunch sprint widely anticipated under the ramparts of the historic port city.
With a crucial individual time trial stage taking place tomorrow with the finish at the iconic setting of Mont-Saint-Michel, the peloton eased off the gas for most of the stage, while keeping a watchful eye on the day's break as the race headed north through Britanny.
The five escapees – Breton native Julian Simon of Sojasun, Europcar’s Jerome Cousin, Euskaltel’s Juanjo Oroz, the Cofidis rider Luis Angel Mate, and Vacansoleil-DCM’s Lieuwe Westra – had got away around 15 kilometres after the start.
They would remain out in front until around 5 kilometres out, their maximum advantage standing at five minutes, the prize at the intermediate sprint at Le Hingle, 69.5 kilometres from the finish, going to Mate, while it was Westra who sprinted ahead to take the maximum mountains points.
In the main bunch, the final points on offer at that intermediate sprint were contested,Greipel prevailing over Cannondale’s Peter Sagan and Cavendish barely denting Sagan’s commanding lead, although thise finish line points help narrow the gap further.
As the race headed towards a zig-zagging route along the coast for the final 25 kilometres or so, the pace increased and there was some jostling for position, nervousness rippling through the peloton with the prospect of a cross tailwind gusting at up to 40 kilometres an hour raising the risk of the group splitting into echelons.
That meant that it was not just teams looking to set up their sprinters that were fighting at the front, but also those with riders towards the top of the General Classification, with the likes of Alberto Contador’s Saxo-Tinkoff and Team Sky, working for race leader Chris Froome, looking to keep their leaders out of trouble.
As it turned out, the peloton stayed together, although the nervous mood in the peloton meant some crashes were inevitable, with Vacansoleil-DCM’s Juan Antonio Flecha, Garmin-Sharp’s Andrew Talansky and Orica-GreenEdge’s Svein Tuft among those involved in chutes.
The final crash was the one that brought down Veelers just a few dozen metres before the line. The Dutchman, who had finished the leadout for Kittel, seemed to drift slightly across to his right just as Cavendish, desperately trying to remain in the fight for the win, came round him, although it would seem harsh to apportion blame exclusively to either rider.
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.