By Sophie Smith
Dutchman Koen de Kort is hopeful his Argos-Shimano team can contest a sprint at the Tour de France this week with its leader Marcel Kittel starting to recover from a stomach bug.
Race debutant Kittel was named as a man to beat in the flat finishes this year but has so far not been able to play a hand.
The 24-year-old fell ill before the start of yesterday's second stage to Tournai, which Mark Cavendish (Sky) won from Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge), and was consequently not in the mix.
Kittel was dropped in today's undulating 197km run to Boulogne-sur-Mer but is starting to come good with around three flat stages for the pure sprinters remaining this week.
"He's got a really sore stomach, had diarrhoea and I think he was vomiting," de Kort said.
"He didn't eat much at all yesterday but this morning he was able to eat normally and he said in the race he felt pretty good again. I think he should be alright for tomorrow, maybe not top fit but he's getting back into it now.
"When you get a bug, and you're so empty one day, you're not going to be perfect two days later but he'll be back for maybe the last sprint stage this first week."
The Vuelta a Espana stage winner Kittel may be a Tour debutant but his more learned rivals have taken note of his talent and seven race victories this season. Cavendish, Greipel and Goss were among those that determined the German sprinter as a threat to their respective winning chances pre-event.
De Kort said his teammate was handling the pressure of competing on cycling's biggest stage for the first time well.
"He doesn't seem more nervous than he usually is," de Kort said. "I think he's quite used to having the pressure of the whole team working for him. He actually thrives on it."
De Kort injured his hand in a heavy pile-up with about 30km to go in today's crash-marred third stage.
Tomorrow's fourth stage is one of the longest of the Tour at 214.5km. The race from Abbeville to Rouen is another for the sprinters and coastal winds along the route are likely to play a factor.
Tour de France 2012: Latest news
Sky down to eight after Siutsou crash
Kittel recovering from illness
Explaining the three kilometre rule
Sky's embarrassment of riches
Rogers back on form and backing Wiggins in the Tour
Martin to continue in Tour despite fractured wrist
Liquigas coach tips Sagan for future Grand Tour win
Cancellara's win lifts morale in RadioShack team
Tour de France 2012: Teams, riders, start list
Tour 2012: Who will win?
Tour de France 2012 provisional start list
Tour de France 2012 team list
Tour de France 2012: Stage reports
Stage three: Sagan runs away with it in Boulogne
Stage two: Cavendish takes 21st Tour stage victory
Stage one: Sagan wins at first attempt
Prologue: Cancellara wins, Wiggins second
Tour de France 2012: Comment, analysis, blogs
Analysis: How much time could Wiggins gain in Tour's time trials
CW's Tour de France podcasts
Blog: Tour presentation - chasing dreams and autographs
Comment: Cavendish the climber
Tour de France 2012: Photo galleries
Stage three by Graham Watson
Stage two by Andy Jones
Stage two by Graham Watson
Stage one by Graham Watson
Prologue photo gallery by Andy Jones
Prologue photo gallery by Roo Rowler
Prologue photo gallery by Graham Watson
Tour de France 2012: Team presentation
Sky and Rabobank Tour de France recce
Tour de France 2012: Live text coverage
Stage three live coverage
Cycling Weekly's live text coverage schedule
Tour de France 2012: TV schedule
ITV4 live schedule
British Eurosport live schedule
Tour de France 2012: Related links
Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Cavendish
Brief history of the Tour de France
Tour de France 2011: Cycling Weekly's coverage index
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