Kittle takes a third.
After watching Marcel Kittel win three stages in four days at the Tour de France, we couldn’t help but think his boys are having a grand old time. (Perhaps Kittel will eventually slow down thanks to his highly glasses of champagne.)
Kittel’s Giant-Shimano squad is so well-drilled they make Greipel’s train over at Lotto look second rate and tactically dated.
As Edward Pickering explained over at CyclingWeekly, Lotto works like an 2014 version of Cav’s old HTC gang — going to the front at 15k, hoping to string everything out and grind everyone down.
Giant-Shimano says “Wow, seems like a lot of extra work that doesn’t win races.” Instead Kittel and company ramp up somewhere past the 5k banner. They don’t burn any riders until the last moment and as a consequence, Kittel benefits from the textbook armchair ride.
Fresh is always faster.
Kittel has won three stages and with top rival Cavendish out after a separated shoulder in a dramatic stage one crash, nobody else seems capable of matching the German in a straight shot to the line. Sagan is your man for an uphill sprint but he’s a consistent second place when it isn’t.
You only had to see the look on teammate John Degenkolb’s face after Kittel won stage three to see the motivation and commitment. Although he’s also a top sprinter for Giant-Shimano, his wide-screen grin said everything about team morale and support. No egos, just pure, concentrated speed.
The most difficult task ahead for Kittel in this Tour de France is downplaying his chances of winning five or six stages in total. He said his goal was one win and refused to speculate on whether he might pick up a few more. We can appreciate his modesty and desire to minimize the pressures to deliver but he must be licking his chops with Cav nowhere to be seen and Lotto tactically confused.
The big news was that the rain and massive, chaotic crowds in London put a scare into tough guy Andre Greipel. He didn’t recover from that nervousness today in Lille, France. Unlike Cavendish who admitted he tried to force himself into a space that didn’t exist, Greipel has become risk adverse.
It’s rare that a team manager calls out his rider and questions his courage in public but team boss Marc Sergeant did just that after stage three. “The rain and all the people… Andre was scared,” Sergeant told Sporza. “He always let the guys go, he braked in all the corners. Then you can’t win anything in the Tour. This is a missed opportunity.”
The opportunity for Greipel and Lotto-Belisol is shrinking. Lead-out man Greg Henderson crashed out of the race with 30k to go and two other teammates went down. Train running out of steam and confidence.
Thus far in the Tour de France, Greipel is not in a smiling mood. However Marcel Kittel and everybody at Giant-Shimano has a grin on their faces.