Marcel Kittel has tipped less conventional bunch sprints at this Tour de France after picking wheels and coming from behind to mark an emotional victory on Sunday.
The German has one of the strongest sprint teams in the race but like many of his rivals lost his lead-out train in the run to Liege.
It didn’t impact the now 10-time Tour stage winner, who sprinted clear of Arnaud Demare (FDJ) and Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) to claim the second stage and put down a marker to the other fast men.
It’s an improvement for the 29-year-old, who not always but typically has worked best off a textbook lead-out.
“I think the reason why we have uncontrolled sprints, in the end, is because we have so many sprinters now, especially in the Tour,” Kittel said. “They all try to work with their teams but in the end, everyone is realising how it doesn’t work, so everyone is in survival mode, trying to keep a good position. I think today for my team it was an advantage to come relatively late. I could then jump from wheel to wheel and move to the front when everyone else was already wasting energy before.”
Kittel admitted his Quick-Step made mistakes in the final, but it was noted that there were other sprinters isolated and so verified his sentiment.
Photos showed Kittel broke down into tears past the finish line, which he put down to riding through his native Germany at the beginning of the 203.5km flat stage from Dusseldorf.
The Tour has now left Germany but its start there was significant given relevant stakeholders had for a long time lost faith in and abandoned the sport following well-documented doping scandals.
Kittel’s career results and that of compatriots including Greipel, Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin) and John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) have gone some way in restoring belief.
“There were massive crowds next to the roads, which I think nobody expected to be honest. It makes me really, really proud to see that this sport is now really well accepted again in my home country,” Kittel said.
“There was definitely a time when not so many spectators were standing next to the road and those who were there were showing signs with EPO syringes or other shit. I think the image of cycling, also the way people see it now, has changed. They understand this is a sport that had a very tough time, a very big problem also with doping.
"They also understand this is a sport that had a very tough time, a very big problem also with doping. They also understand this is a sport that always has to pay attention to this heritage and that we are actively trying to work on it,” he continued.
“In the end when you still see so many people it’s great. For me, as a German rider, it’s goose-bumps.”