• “I never felt better.” Ominous signs for rivals of maillot vert Marcel Kittel. (AFP)Source: AFP
By now, you should be familiar with Pau. We’ve only been here sixty-eight times before.
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Cycling Central
12 Jul 2017 - 4:15 PM  UPDATED 12 Jul 2017 - 9:02 PM

Marcel Kittel is so good, the only time he was out of the running on a sprint stage, Mark Cavendish tried to go through a gap that didn’t exist, crashing into the barriers and out of the race, and world champ Peter Sagan was thrown out for supposedly causing said incident.

Marcel Kittel is so good, his erstwhile closest competitor in the points competition, Arnaud Démare of FDJ, almost ‘did a Cavendish’ the next sprint in Troyes, though got through by the barest of margins and finished second to the German juggernaut. “It seems these days they’re willing to risk their lives,” Team Subweb’s Michael Matthews said on a day he ran seventh to Kittel. “I need to start my sprint from the front. I’m not a guy that can headbutt people or elbow people to get into position."

Marcel Kittel is so good, he caused Démare to fall ill, and three days later in Chambéry the Frenchman finished hors délai. (Okay, maybe he caught a bug, but at least Arnaud won’t have to sprint against him anymore this Tour.)

Marcel Kittel is so good, in the intermediate sprints he’s not really trying. They can have ‘em, he’s thinks to himself, as his rivals fight over the scraps like a clowder of stray cats. I’ll just win the stage... A feat he’s accomplished four times already.

Marcel Kittel is so good, when he won his fourth Tuesday in Bergerac and Matthews, second on points, finished 13th, thus widening the gap to the maillot vert by 102 points, it made the Canberran howl then weep. “Today was really one of the days where we needed to nail it,” said Bling. “We didn’t.”

Matthews: the mojo’s not lost, it’s just missing
Devastated by his 13th place in stage 10, Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) arrived at the team bus after the race at a low ebb. He has speed and support but he needs to find an answer to overcome a sprinter like Marcel Kittel (QuickStep Floors) as he continues his quest for the green jersey.

Marcel Kittel is so good, he makes grown men cry.

“I never race for records, but I must admit that having 13 Tour de France stages to my name is really special. I never felt better, I’m in good condition and all these things give me confidence, and that confidence, together with the team’s hard work and dedication, carried me again to victory,” said an emotion-charged Kittel, breaking five-time points winner Erik Zabel’s 15-year-old record to become the most successful German rider in terms of stage wins at La Grande Boucle.

Marcel Kittel is so good, Marc Sergeant, the sporting manager of Lotto Soudal, team of André Greipel, was forced to defend their original plan to unequivocally support the winner of a stage in every Grand Tour he’s contested since 2008 - though not yet this Grand Tour. “We put our train on the rails with six kilometres remaining, but it went wrong in the final straight. I understand that there are questions when we don’t get the win,” he said on a day where Greipel finished just one place ahead of Matthews. “I think it is important that we take our responsibility, that we show to André that we have an unwavering will to go for a stage victory.

“QuickStep won’t do everything themselves in the chase if we decide not to cooperate. They have already won four stages, so the pressure is on the other teams. André remains our biggest chance for a stage victory,” said Sergeant.

“I understand that there will be questions until we have a stage victory, but I think that André has proven to be a top sprinter on many occasions. And we will not simply give up our confidence in him. In the first week, he sprinted three times to third place. At this point, Marcel Kittel has proven to be the strongest sprinter by far, but we will give everything we have until the last stage in order for the flat stages to end in a bunch sprint, so that we can compete for the stage victory.”

Marcel Kittel is so good, he makes some of the best-drilled teams fall apart in the finishing straight.

Wednesday in Pau, Marcel Kittel has another opportunity.

Mountain passes & hills
Km 145.5 - Côte d'Aire-sur-l'Adour: 1.2 kilometre-long climb at 4.2% - category 4

Last year, the third most visited city at the Tour behind Paris and Bordeaux was the start town of the eighth leg. It resembled a very different profile to that of today, traversing the hors catégorie Col du Tourmalet, the Cat. 2 La Hourquette d'Ancizan, the Cat. 1 Col de Val Louron-Azet, and finally the Cat. 1 Col de Peyresourde, before descending into Bagnères-de-Luchon. It was a riff on the original Pyrenean ‘Circle of Death’ that originally appeared at the 1910 Tour, the first time the race went into the high mountains, and on paper was billed as the hardest day of the race.

Just 14 riders remained in front by the summit of the Peyresourde, roughly 15 kilometres from the finish, and with a fairly stress-free descent to Luchon, a much-reduced sprint was on the cards. Though not Chris Froome’s: apropos of nothing, the defending champion of 2015 decided to gap his rivals using a technique he quietly trained for in Tenerife, clocking 90.9 km/h en route to a stage win and the maillot jaune to boot. By Paris, his 16-second advantage to second place would become 4 minutes and 5 seconds to an unlikely runner-up in Romain Bardet.

As things stand, the Kenyan-born Brit has an 18-second lead over Astana’s Fabio Aru. Will the same thing happen again?

In stark contrast, apart from Pau being the tail rather than the head, today’s only obstacle is the Cat. 4 Côte d’Aire-sur-l’Adour, some 60 kilometres from the finish, and is benign as it sounds. In fact, at 1.2km with a 4.2% average gradient, if it wasn’t signposted, chances are the peloton wouldn’t even know they’d crossed it!

Christian Prudhomme, Tour de France race director, says:
“The Tour gets closer to its Pyrenean base but mountain specialists will still be preserving their energy. Going through the areas of Les Landes and Gers, command of the peloton will probably be left to the teams of sprinters. The escapees having made the effort to take off will, if they desire, have the opportunity to make a prayer at the Notre-Dame-des-Cyclistes Chapel, situated in Labastide-d'Armagnac.”

Finish line: Rue du Maquis Le Béarn at the end of a 600m finishing straight. Width: 6.50m.

Weather: 24°C and partly cloudy at start, 5% precipitation, 57% humidity, wind 13km/h W; 21°C and partly cloudy at finish, 0% precipitation, 85% humidity, wind 15km/h WNW.

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