Koen de Kort is less inclined to bet against his Giant-Shimano team-mate Marcel Kittel ahead of today’s flat stage at the Tour de France in which the latter has a chance to equal his quadruple haul from last year’s race.
Stage 15 from Tallard to Nimes presents one of just a few remaining chances for sprinters with wind and possible rain variables to consider on the 222km run that precedes the second rest day.
De Kort got the now infamous ‘Kittel cut’ on the second rest day of last year’s Tour after losing a wager to the German he said could not win three stages at the 100th edition. Kittel did so prior to ending Mark Cavendish’s reign on the Champs-Élysées in what then marked a mainstream breakthrough for him and the Professional Continental turned WorldTour team.
“I did an interview before the  Tour started with [Australian TV network] SBS and they asked the question, ‘what’s up with your guy’s hair?’ I just answered, ‘oh yeah, I don’t know, it’s an undercut or whatever that may be,'" de Kort said.
“Marcel saw the interview on the internet and then came up to my room and was like, ‘what is that? What do you mean with ‘an undercut or whatever that may be?’' It became a bit of a joke and then after a while I said, ‘OK, if you win three stages I’ll do my hair like yours.’
“I didn’t think he was going to win three stages,” de Kort continued. “I thought if I say two stages that’s maybe possible but three? He’s never going to be able to do that. That was in the first couple days of the Tour. He had won one [the Corsica Grand Depart], so I thought maybe he can win another, but I didn’t think he was going to win four.”
The haircut is growing out and de Kort, who is an integral part of the Giant-Shimano lead-out train, hasn’t made any such similar wager this season with Kittel conquering the Yorkshire Grand Depart, stage three to London and the fourth stage to Lille thus far.
“You don’t expect to win three stages in the first three chances but we knew that it was possible. It’s definitely different to what happened last year,” he said.
The 26-year-old Kittel and German national champion Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) are yet to level alongside and go head-to-head in a bunch sprint at this year's event. However, today’s course, race conditions permitting, is conducive to such a dual. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) will surely be looking to add to his success too. Since Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) crashed out in stage one his revered lead-out man Mark Renshaw has contested the sprints finishing third in London and fourth in stage six to Reims where Greipel won.
“Physically nothing has changed since he left. Mentally I had to make a change,” Renshaw said.
“I’ve made a couple of wrong decisions on a couple of days and probably had better legs than what the results show, so that was disappointing, but I can’t be too hard [on myself] because I didn’t come here with any ambitions to sprint. I’ve done all the work to help Cav and that’s why I’m probably missing a little bit in the finish.”
Giant-Shimano will be without engine Dries Devenyns today after the Belgian crashed on the Col d’Izoard descent in the French Alps yesterday and was transported to hospital. Greipel has lost chief pilot Greg Henderson, who abandoned due a crash related injury in the first week, as well as Bart De Clercq.
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Sophie Smith is an Australian journalist, broadcaster and author of Pain & Privilege: Inside Le Tour. She follows the WorldTour circuit, working for British, Australian and US press, and has covered 10 Tours de France.
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