• Marcel Kittel (Etixx-Quickstep) and Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) battle for stage honours (Getty) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Marcel Kittel (Etixx-Quickstep) broke the hearts of the French nation in Limoges beating Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) in the second photo finish in a row.
Cycling Central

6 Jul 2016 - 3:38 AM  UPDATED 6 Jul 2016 - 10:52 AM

Coquard came from behind with a late turn of speed to tussle with the big German, who had launched at the 150m mark. However, the millions of French viewers who tuned in hoping to see a Frenchmen win a Tour sprint had their hopes dashed by the photo finish.    

It was an emotional win for Kittel returning to the Tour for the first time since 2014 after being left at home by Giant-Alpecin last year due to poor form. 

"I'm very emotional right now. It feels like my first stage win again," he said. 

"I'm so happy to be back in the Tour and to win the stage especially like that, I can't believe it."

Brought safely to the 400m mark by two team-mates, Kittel sat behind Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) until he swooped around the right side of his fellow German with a 150m drag to the line. The plucky Coquard was similarly protected behind Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) only moving around the race leader with 50m to go. 

It was Kittel's first Tour stage win since the Champs Elysees in 2014.

"I'm super happy. Something went wrong the last stage. I'm very proud because the team was really fighting for the win," he said. 

Coquard was understandably disappointed after coming close two days in a row, and especially after producing a searing turn of speed today.

"I really believed in my chances," said Coquard. "Jimmy [Engoulvent] yesterday reproached me for have thrown my bike forward enough.

"I could see I was making it back [today] but it was not enough. I'm very disappointed but I must not give up. There are still lots of chances left."

It was situation neutral in the general classification battle today, with Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) retaining the yellow jersey and no incidents affecting the time gaps between the key contenders ahead of tomorrow's lumpy stage.

Sagan reclaimed the green jersey from Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) by just five points, after finishing third in the sprint behind Coquard. Cavendish was boxed in and could only manage eighth, while Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) finished 19th in the main bunch.

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As it happened 

Despite today being the longest stage of the Tour at 237km, the peloton chose not to repeat the unofficial ceasefire of Stage 3, travelling at an average speed that was 10km/h faster than Monday's stage.  

The battle for the breakaway was more animated too, with Markel Irizar (Trek-Segafredo) and Andreas Schillinger (Bora-Argon 18) making the escape after 18km, to be joined by Oliver Naesen (IAM Cycling), Alexis Gougeard (AG2R) soon after.

The break built a lead of build a lead of 3min50 after 35 kilometres of racing. The gap remained stable until 35km to go, when Gougeard was dropped on the rise towards Bonnac-La-Cote. The remaining riders were absorbed by the galloping peloton with 7km to go.  

The breakaway took the maximum points on offer out on the road, with Irizar claiming the KOM and Schillingen the intermediate sprint. Sagan, Kittel and Cavendish fought it out for the minor positions on the intermediate sprint, with Sagan taking the points. 

Kittel has not looked back since joining the Etixx-Quickstep squad this year, posting a string of victories including two stages and a stint in the pink jersey at the Giro d'Italia. The victory also means Kittel surpasses countryman Rudi Altig as Germany's most successful Tour de France stage winner.