Behind the finish line Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) motioned for reporters to move as he passed, throwing his bike at the side of the Katusha-Alpecin bus from which he was heard yelling soon after.
It was an uncharacteristic reaction from the German, who is normally measured and humble in victory and defeat.
Kittel hasn’t featured on the winners list in the opening week of this 105th edition and was not in the bunch kick that Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) won, a closer for the sprinters as the race now moves to the Alps.
It was a disappointing end to a day that was punctuated with drama even before the 181km run from Dreux to Amiens commenced.
In an interview with L’Equipe published yesterday, Katusha-Alpecin sports director Dmitri Konychev slammed the work ethic of his newly signed marquee sprinter.
“We’re paying him a lot but he’s only interested in himself," said Konychev. 'Before the Cholet team time trial, he played with his phone during the briefing to make me realise I didn’t have his attention."
Kittel had no immediate reaction to the spray yesterday. Adding to the insult, two of his lead-out men in Rick Zabel and Tony Martin were later involved in a crash some 17km from the flat finish. Martin suffered a spinal fracture and abandoned the race.
Kittel has less aid at this Tour than previous years with Katusha-Alpecin dividing its resources between he and overall hopeful Ilnur Zakarin.
The 30-year-old joined the outfit this season but has so far failed to repeat the run of success he had at Quick-Step, the squad that helped trumpet him to five Tour stage victories in 2017.
Katusha-Alpecin heavily recruited over the off-season, focusing on a more international cast that weren’t all accustomed to working as part of a lead-out. Kittel has repeatedly noted the absence of the injured Marco Haller from his sprint train, which six months into Kittel's stay is yet to find a rhythm.
“Now it’s over for progress, now we just need to perform,” Zabel said before the start of Stage 8. "For sure we’re not happy. We want to win a stage."
"Yesterday [stage seven] he didn’t feel so good in the final, so he couldn’t follow us. That’s what it is - we don’t look back, we just look forward. It’s still not perfect but I’m confident if we get it together - he has a good day and the lead-out guys have a good day - then we can win.”
Groenewegen as well as race debutant Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors), who was relegated with Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) yesterday, have so far denied the established guard from shining. That combined with the heat and early onset of fatigue contributed to obvious tension.
“The Tour de France has been pretty hilly until now. It’s very stressful and pretty hard for the sprinters, even the sprint stages,” Zabel said.
The sprinters will have some time before they next battle, with Stage 13 the next realistic chance for the fast men.
Stage 8 of the Tour de France. The podcast team analyse the new influx of talent to the sprinting ranks and look ahead to the Roubaix cobbles.