Five talking points from stage 11 of the Tour de France
Kittel continues his sprint dominance ahead of two days in the mountains
Marcel Kittel dominates yet again
Unlike the previous stage into Bergerac, today the Quick-Step Floors lead-out train was forced to do some work as Lotto-Soudal sat back, forcing their Belgian rivals to toil on the front in pursuit of escapee Maciej Bodnar.
However, as has been the case on most of his previous stage wins this year, Kittel was positioned a few wheels back going into the final 500m, and was forced to go wide to the left of the road as he followed lead-out man Fabio Sabatini while Edvald Boasson Hagen and Michael Matthews opened the sprint on the right.
For a moment it looked as if Boasson Hagen might be able to take revenge for missing out by 0.0003sec on stage seven to Nuits-Saint-Georges, but the Norwegian was no match for the unstoppable German, who took his fifth win of the race.
Kittel now has a very firm grip on the green jersey, and with three possible sprint stages remaining, could now be eyeing up the record of eight stage wins in a single Tour that has only been achieved by Charles Pélissier in 1930, Eddy Merckx in 1970 and 1974, and Freddy Maertens in 1976.
Could Groenewegen provide the challenge?
Hardly mentioned in the build-up to the race and over the course of the first week, Dylan Groenewegen has been, after Kittel of course, the most consistent sprinter in the race.
Take out the stage into Vittel where he was caught up in a crash and the LottoNL-Jumbo rider hasn’t finished lower than the sixth in a bunch sprint, including finishing third and second in the last two stages.
Today Groenewegen was positioned even further back than Kittel going under the flamme rouge, but was able to work his way onto the German’s wheel with 500m to go.
Unfortunately he didn’t quite have the speed to come past Kittel, only pulling alongside him in the final few metres to take second ahead of Boasson Hagen. However if you’re looking for a rider to challenge Kittel in the remaining sprint stages, then Groenewegen’s form certainly seems to be heading in the right direction.
Maciej Bodnar makes things interesting
At the end of a rather tedious of racing, Maciej Bodnar provided a bit of excitement as he put in a brave solo effort to only be caught with 300m to go to the line.
On paper the four-time Polish time trial champion looked like the strongest man in the break, and he certainly gave the peloton something to think about when he cut loose from his breakaway companions with 28km remaining.
At the point the break’s advantage had been down to less than 30 seconds, but Bodnar quickly took that back up towards a minute.
With six kilometres remaining Bodnar still held 30 seconds, and fought all the way to the final few hundred metres as he was caught with the finish line in sight.
Frederick Backaert: breakaway king
Probably the least-known team coming into the Tour de France, Wanty-Groupe Gobert have made a name for themselves with their nearly daily appearances in the breakaway.
Escapee-in-chief on the Wanty bus is Frederik Backaert, who made his way into the breakaway for the third time in the race today, having previously been out front on stage three into Longwy and stage six into Troyes.
Today’s effort means that the Belgian has racked up nearly 600km at the front of the race, giving the team’s sponsors just the sort of TV exposure that they would have hoped to gain from their first Tour appearance.
Maybe the Tour should follow the leader of the Giro d’Italia and introduce a prize for the rider who spends the most kilometres in breakaways, rather than have jury arbitrarily hand out the overall combativity award come Paris.
The mountains beckon
Pau is the third most visited stage town in the history of the Tour de France, but of all the 69 visits the race has made to the town, this was surely among the most boring.
While Tuesday’s uneventful stage 10 into Bergerac was redeemed slightly by some spectacular scenery along the Dordogne river, stage 11 mostly consisted of dead straight roads through thick forests, with only the occasional chateau to pique the viewer’s interest.
Thank goodness, therefore, that Pau will play host to the start of the sort big Pyrénéan mountain stage that we more associate with its place in Tour history.
Five climbs are scattered across the route, including the hors-categorie Port de Balés and its technical descent, and the ascent of the Col du Peyresourde before the final ramp to the finish in Peyragudes.