On a wet slog from the start in Dusseldorf to the finish in Liege, riders crashed, nerves were frayed and a bit of German pride was restored after the disappointment of Tony Martin's (Quickstep Floors) missed win on the previous stage.
No one team was strong enough to master the leadout in the first sprint battle of the Tour de France and it came down to a head-to-head drag sprint to the line. Kittel proved himself the strongest as he burst from the wheel of Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) to take the win from Arnaud Demare (FDJ) and Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal).
"If we are honest the plan didn't work at all," said Kittel. "Saba (teammate Fabio Sabatini) took me to 500 metres to go and then I had to find gaps and just get through."
"I am super happy that I got this victory today it was an incredible start in Germany, so many people. For me, it would be wrong to say I had no expectation or pressure.
"It all comes out now and I really wanted to have this win. It was a really big goal to start in Germany and then win at the end of this stage."
The 203.5 kilometre stage from Dusseldorf to Liege also saw a nasty crash take down a large portion of the peloton, with a number of riders limping into Liege well after the big German had crossed the line.
A major crash with 30 kilometres remaining at the front of the peloton saw a large number of the riders hit the deck. Richie Porte (BMC Racing), Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) were the highest profile riders involved, but both picked themselves back up and chased their way back on.
In the end none of the big candidates for general classification victory ended up losing time.
As it happened
The early action was relatively sedate, with four riders allowed to head off early in the piece with little objection raised by the peloton. Thomas Boudat (Direct Energie), Taylor Phinney (Cannondale-Garmin), Yoann Offredo (Wanty Groupe Gobert) and Laurent Pichon (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) were the ones to brave the long 203.5 kilometres in store for them.
Luke Durbridge (Orica-Scott) made a great effort to even get to the start line after injuring his ankle in a heavy crash on the Stage 1 time trial. He struggled on for a while before abandoning the race in what will be a significant blow to Orica-Scott's team strength.
The King of the Mountains jersey was the big prize on offer for the breakaway, who would have known that they stood little chance of being allowed to ride off to win the stage. The first climb of the day, a Category 4 rated ascent, saw Phinney break clear of the group to claim the single point on offer.
The break never got far beyond a gap of three minutes, with Lotto Soudal, Quickstep Floors, FDJ and Katusha-Alpecin doing most of the work on the front to keep the gap in check.
Rain began to come down with 130 km left, with riders dropping back to their team cars to collect rain jackets to protect themselves from the worst of the elements.
The intermediate sprint came with 121 kilometres remaining in the race, and with plenty of time to recover the main contenders for the green jersey came to the fore to battle it out for the points on offer.
The first four places were claimed by the breakaway, with Boudat outsprinting Phinney for the points and the bonus cash on offer.
Behind, the leadout train of Katusha-Alpecin did the best job positioning their chosen sprinter, Alexander Kristoff, at the head of affairs and indeed it was the big Norwegian who took out the bunch kick for fifth, ahead of Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) and Michael Matthews (Giant-Alpecin). Most of the other big names in the sprinting ranks were attentive in picking up the minor points.
The peloton and the breakaway maintained a steady pace as the course wound it's way towards Liege with crowds turning out despite the wet and cold conditions to cheer the riders on.
The big crash saw riders scattered across the road after a Katusha-Alpecin rider saw his front wheel wash out in the slippery conditions, creating a domino effect behind.
Bardet and Froome were the highest profile riders effected, and worked their way back onto the rear of the peloton.
Froome's bike was damaged and he had to drop back to the team car for a quick change before the sprint trains made it too difficult to get back in touch.
The final categorised climb of the day, another Category 4, came with 20.5 kilometres remaining and was crucial to determining whether Phinney would be able to keep his grasp on the King of the Mountains jersey. The Cannondale-Drapac rider countered the attack of Pichon to make sure that he would be wearing the polka dot jersey at the end of the stage.
Phinney continued his attack on the descent, with Offredo bridging across, meaning that it was down to just two riders at the front of the race. The two pushed hard going into the final kilometres, looking at various points like they might even be able to achieve the unlikely result of holding off the charging sprint trains to contest the stage win.
The sprint trains began to string the race out, with Quickstep Floors hitting the front of the race with still four kilometres left. The catch of Phinney and Offredo was made with just over a kilometre remaining in the race, as Lotto Soudal surged under the flamme rouge to leadout Andre Greipel.
No one team was able to sustain the push to the line and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) found himself stranded on the front of the peloton whilst still too far out to launch his own sprint. Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) jumped first with Kittel surfing his wheel and then powering around the Italian. He managed to hold off a late surge from Demare as well as German rival Greipel to take an emotional win.