This article wasoriginally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) continued his dream Tour de France with victory on stage 12. The German charged around Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) in full flight to take his third victory of the 2013 edition. Cavendish looked like he had the legs to take it, but Kittel had the speed to overhaul the Manx Missile in the final metres.
"Both teams had no real lead-out trains in the finale, so every lead out guy had to go long," Kittel said after his win. "I had to go onto the wheel of Cavendish and then I waited a little before I started my sprint. It was close."
Peter Sagan had to settle for third place. The Cannondale rider still holds a commanding lead of 94 points in the green jersey competition. Cavendish moved into second, 16 points ahead of André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol). A crash in the final three kilometres left Greipel without any teammates at the finish. Greg Henderson, Jurgen Roelandts and Marcel Sieberg all went down, leaving Greipel stuck behind. The German was unable to get back and he crossed the line in the main bunch.
After leaving last year's Tour in the first week, Kittel was more than delighted to have rectified it. "The win today means a lot to me. This is my third win in the Tour de France and in Germany we say 'Good things come in threes'," the Argos-Shimano sprinter said. "I would like to dedicate it to my team, especially Tom Veelers who is still in a lot of pain. I saw him after the stage and he was in tears. I love my team."
Chris Froome finished safely in yellow
Chris Froome avoided the crash to finish safely in the group and retain his yellow jersey. Froome put a lot of time into his rivals in yesterday's time trial, but it wasn't without some ramifications. "I could definitely feel the legs from the efforts of yesterday," he said at the finish. "But they got better as the stage went on. Today was the most relaxed day in the Tour so far and it was a great win by Kittel. We've got a couple more of these sprint stages and then we'll be ready for the mountains."
How it happened
This year's Tour de France hasn't seen much resistance to the breakaways. That continued today with the first attack proving fruitful. Francesco Gavazzi (Astana), Romain Sicard (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Manuele Mori (Lampre-Merida), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM), Anthony Delaplace (Sojasun) were the ones to go up the road.
The quintet got a maximum gap of nine minutes before the peloton decided to pick up the pace. With an assured sprint finish, there were plenty of teams on hand to keep the escapees on a short leash.
Gavazzi took full points at the intermediate sprint, leaving it to the sprinters to mop up the remaining positions. As ever it was hotly contested between Cavendish, Greipel and Sagan. Cavendish was the one to come out on top this time, ahead of Greipel. Sagan was left to lick his wounds and vent his annoyance after being blocked by Vacansoleil's Kris Boeckmans.
The peloton crosses a bridge spanning the Loire river
For much of the day the pace was kept at a high 45kph, faster than any of the Tour's schedules. Sicard was obviously feeling it and he was the first of the escapees to begin his journey back to the peloton. He was caught with 43 kilometres to go. Keen to get the combative prize and some exposure for his team, Flecha refused to be caught and decided to go solo. The peloton seemed all too happy to let the Spaniard make a go of it. Heading under the 10km to go banner, Flecha had a small lead of 25 seconds over the main group. The Vacansoleil rider was finally caught with six kilometres remaining.
With the finish in sight, the pace of the peloton continued to rise, stringing out some of the more tired riders. Just after the three kilometres to go banner, Lotto-Belisol found themselves in a spot of bother. Henderson, Sieberg and Jurgen Roelandts all found themselves on the ground with several other riders. Greipel missed the crash, but was caught up behind him, making it impossible for him to contest the sprint.
The crash was evident at the finish, as many of the sprinters were without their lead-out men. Cavendish still had Gert Steegmans, who delivered him perfectly to the line. It looked like it was all set up for Cavendish, but Kittel jumped out in the final metres to make it a hat trick of victories.
The final sprint between Cav and Kittel