The German sprinter came from nowhere to overhaul Ewan and Cavendish, who it had looked would take first and second until Kittel came around Ewan on the right hand side of the road.
However, the victory was not enough to move Kittel into the red leader’s jersey, with Cavendish holding on to the overall lead of the race by four seconds.
Going into the final kilometre and it was Cavendish’s Dimension Data and Ewan’s Orica-Scott that had control of the front of the peloton, with Cavendish eventually deciding to latch onto the Australian’s wheel with 700m to go.
That appeared to be a wise move as Cavendish began to move alongside Ewan in the final 200m, but Ewan, sprinting with his chest almost touching his handlebars, pulled out a second burst of speed to cross the line half a bike length ahead of Cavendish.
For a second Ewan thought he had the win, briefly raising his arms in celebration. But what the Orica-Scott rider hadn’t seen was Kittel making a late surge on the right hand side of the road, having launched his sprint from at least 10 places back.
Had the line been 15m earlier then Ewan may have taken the win, but as it was Kittel was able to overhaul the 22-year-old, taking his first ever Abu Dhabi Tour stage win.
For much of the day the race was led by a six man group that escaped from the gun, including three Italian riders: Nicola Boem (Bardiani-CSF), Alessandro De Marchi (BMC Racing), Kirill Sveshnikov (Gazprom Rusvelo), Marco Canola (Nippo-Vini Fantini), Fabio Calabria (Novo Nordisk) and Kristijan Durasek (UAE Team Emirates).
They were only allowed a maximum advantage of two minutes, which remained steady for much of the stage as Canola swept up maximum points at both of the intermediate sprints.
As the race entered the final 30km the gap was brought down below a minute for the first time, and as the sprint trains began to form and the pace began to rise, the last members of break were eventually caught inside the final five kilometres with De Marchi and Canola holding out for the longest.
Inside the final kilometre and Dimension Data had control of the peloton, with only Sky seemingly able to challenge, before Orica-Scott moved up to take the lead.
This seemingly set the stage for a head-to-head sprint between Ewan and Cavendish, before Kittel unleashed a stunning late burst of speed to take the win.
“When I was at 1.3km I was about position 25 but I still had my guys around me so I didn’t want to give up and I fought from there and jumped from wheel to wheel,” explained Kittel. “I’m glad I didn’t give up and kept believing in the victory.”
The Abu Dhabi Tour continues on Saturday with what is likely to be the race’s decisive stage, as it features the only hill of the event – the final climb to Jebel Hafeet. We should see the likes of Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Fabio Aru (Astana) and Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) come to the fore.
The race concludes on Sunday, February 26.
Abu Dhabi Tour 2017, stage two: Al Maryah Island to Big Flag, 153km
1. Marcel Kittel (Ger) Quick-Step Floors, in 3-28-11
2. Caleb Ewan (Aus) Orica-Scott
3. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Dimension Data
4. Matteo Pelucchi (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe
5. Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Team Sunweb
6. Elia Viviani (Ita) Team Sky
7. Andrea Guardini (Ita) UAE Team Emirates
8. Eduard Grosu (Rom) Nippo-Vini Fantini
9. André Greipel (Ger) Lotto-Soudal
10. Alexander Porsev (Rus) Gazprom-Rusvelo, all same time
General classification after stage two
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Dimension Data, in 8-05-03
2. Marcel Kittel (Ger) Quick-Step Floors, at 4 secs
3. Andre Greipel (Ger) Lotto-Soudal, at 8 secs
4. Marco Canoloa (Ita) Nippo-Vini Fantini, at 8 secs
5. Caleb Ewan (Aus) Orica-Scott, at 8 secs
6. Manuele Mori (Ita) UAE Team Emirates, at 8 secs
7. Niccolo Bonifazio (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at 10 secs
8. Fabio Calabria (Aus) Team Novo Nordisk, at 11 secs
9. Mirco Maestri (Ita) Bardiani-CSF, at 12 secs
10. Kazishige Kuboki (Jpn) Nippo-Vini Fantini, at 12 secs