Beautiful but boring flat stages make their return
The Dordogne region of France is beautiful: rolling terrain, green fields and châteaus in abundance.
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Stage 10 offered plenty of scenic shots, no doubt to the pleasure of the local tourism board. But for the bike riders, for the TV viewers, and the commentators, it didn’t make for great racing.
The outcome was so certain that only two riders made the breakaway. The peloton kept them within reach throughout, with a bunch sprint guaranteed.
These sprint stages are great at the end – and especially if you’re Marcel Kittel – but it doesn’t make for great spectating.
Who can stop Marcel Kittel?
The German’s looking pretty unstoppable, isn’t he? John Degenkolb, his compatriot on the Trek-Segafredo team, has said he is on a different planet and he can’t see anyone who can beat him. Few would disagree.
Unbeatable in bunch sprints thus far, the blonde coiffed Quick-Step Floors rider is having a dream Tour.
He is timing his sprints to perfection, jumping off the right wheel at precisely the right moments, and powering away from his rivals.
His victory margin in Bergerac was, by sprint standards, massive, and it just goes to show how dominant he has been. It is the third time he has won four stages in a single Tour.
Talk before the Tour was that Kittel may well be leaving Quick-Step, potentially to join Katusha-Alpecin. You can beat the Belgian team will now be looking tie him down for many more years to come, rather than offload him.
But where are his sprint rivals?
As outstanding as Kittel has been, there is a genuine question: is he too good, or are his sprint rivals not strong enough?
Without Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), in terms of A-class sprinters, only André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) remains. Given his season and talent, you could argue Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) is in that category, too.
But the pair have failed to really test Kittel: Greipel has recorded a trio of third places and Groenewegen finished third today. But Kittel has still looked far superior.
After the duo, the other sprinters, with respect, are B-class: Michael Matthews (Sunweb) isn’t anywhere near one of the fastest, Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) is way off his 2014 form, John Degenkolb likewise to his 2015 results.
After that, Edvald Boasson Hagen is leading Dimension Data’s charge in Cavendish’s absence, and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) hasn’t looked near stage-winning form yet.
Don’t take anything away from Kittel, but the other sprinters are alarmingly sub-par.
Kittel even takes a stranglehold on the green jersey
There are just four riders who can win the green jersey in all probability now: Kittel, Matthews, Greipel and Kristoff.
Matthews tactic appears to be bettering Kittel in the intermediate sprints and then placing as close to the German as he can in the bunch sprints. On hillier days, Matthews should sweep the board in the intermediate sprints.
But on stage 10, Kittel was determined to extend his 52 point advantage and he did.
His win (Matthews came a disappointing 13th) was allied to the fourth place he took at the intermediate sprint (the two breakaway riders collected first and second).
He now leads by 102 points from Matthews, and has 125 advantage to Greipel.
Dan McLay (wearer of the Tour’s best helmet*) sprinted too early
With 200 metres to go, the rider heading towards the finish line in pole position was Brit Dan McLay (Fortuneo-Oscaro).
The Leicestershire rider has been unable to make an impact in this year’s Tour so far, unlike in his debut race 12 months ago, but energised by that frustration, the 25-year-old delivered his best performance yet.
Unfortunately, he went too soon and once Kittel had got going, he was overtaken by the powerful German and eventually five others. But the signs are promising – he is clearly in good shape, he just needs to time his sprint correctly.
One thing McLay did win in Bergerac was the title of The Tour’s Best Helmet*. He posted a picture of it on Instagram in the morning before the stage and we don’t need to say anything else, other than take a look for yourself above. Artistic genius.
*a totally fictitious award made up by Cycling Weekly