TROYES (France) • Who can stop Marcel Kittel? That was the question at the Tour de France yesterday.
The big German sprint ace raised a glass of champagne after winning Thursday's sixth stage at a canter, having already tasted victory in last Sunday's second stage.
And ahead of yesterday's flat 213.5km seventh stage from Troyes in Champagne to Nuits Saint Georges in Bourgogne, the Tour's top fast men were asking themselves how to beat the 29-year-old vintage sprinter.
"Kittel is the fastest rider in the Tour. We know it for some years now," said Norway's Alexander Kristoff, who was third on Thursday. "He must f*** things up a little bit if we're going to beat him."
Kittel was the dominant sprinter on the 2013 and 2014 Tours before missing the 2015 edition due to illness and injury, when his fellow German Andre Greipel proved the master.
Last year, Kittel was back but his Quick Step team failed to control the chaotic mass finishes and he won only one stage, while the more cunning Mark Cavendish claimed four.
But this year, it is already clear that Kittel is back to his best and the acceleration he produced to storm up from around seventh or eighth place to the head of the pack on Thursday showed he was at a different level to the competition.
Yet he can be caught out, as happened in Tuesday's fourth stage when he was held up by a crash in the final kilometre before rolling over the line 13th, as Frenchman Arnaud Demare won.
And Demare, unlike Kristoff, is unbowed by Kittel's apparent superiority. "There are more sprints to come, I'll take my revenge ," he said following the sixth stage, where he had to squeeze down an almost imperceptible gap next to the safety barriers alongside Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen in order to contest the sprint.
In yesterday's seventh stage, Kittel claimed his third stage win and his 12th in total. His victory also meant that he has equalled Eric Zabel's record of the most Tour stage wins by a German rider.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN
TOUR DE FRANCE
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