Marcel Kittel - a winner of 14 Tour de France stages - believes Mark Cavendish will grab what will be a record breaking 35th stage win at the Tour in the sprint stages still to come.
Cavendish was involved in the thick of the action at the sharp end of the race on both stages three and four. The Manxman missed out to Jasper Philipsen in Bayonne on stage three before Philipsen won again in Nogaro on Tuesday afternoon.
Speaking to Cycling Weekly in Dax prior to stage four, Kittel explained that he believes Cavendish will break the record in one of the remaining sprint opportunities..
“That's the million dollar question,” Kittel said. “I believe in him because what I saw yesterday [stage three] was a strong Cavendish. He was almost alone in the last kilometres and he still kept his position and ended up with a good result but it's always challenging. I mean, he has to surf on wheels and use his kick in the final and it's so hard.
“You need to invest a lot of energy. So I hope he has this kick still left when it's really necessary.”
Prior to the French Grand Tour getting underway, Astana acquired the services of the Manxman’s former teammate Mark Renshaw as a coach for the race.
Kittel told CW that he had not considered the possibility of similar work to Renshaw and that he was “very happy” being on the outside of the racing itself.
“No, I've never pushed for that,” he said. “I'm happy where I am now looking from the other side and celebrating them [former teammates] and cheering for them.”
As well as Cavendish and Astana, Kittel was equally impressed by Alpecin-Deceuninck’s strong showing in the finale of the stage three sprint in Bayonne .
He said. “It was not the fact that they were super strong, because that's what we knew before, not only Mathieu van der Poel but also Jonas Rickaert.
“But also, how they waited until the last kilometre is something that says a lot about their strategy, about their understanding of each other and trust in each other. That's something that you need and especially in a tour final, you need to be able to almost work without any communication together. And that's what we saw yesterday.
“So this is a huge advantage for Jasper Philipsen.”
Mathieu van der Poel was instrumental in delivering Philipsen to the line in the coastal town, something which Kittel described as “bonus points” for Alpecin Deceuninck in the race for sprint dominance.
Both of the finishing straights on stages three and four were very different from one another. In Bayonne the riders had to sprint up a slight incline - something which Cavendish said was not the kind of finish for him - before stage four concluded on a motor racing circuit in Nogaro.
When asked how the sprinting landscape had changed since his time as a rider, he said he feels there are now very few “pure sprinters” in the men’s peloton and as a result, it’s “harder” to win for those that are left.
“We still have some [pure sprinters], but the Tour's also adapting to its many talents, its new stars. And that's something that you can definitely see, how the amount of pure sprint stages decreased in the last years. This year we have four very clear sprint stages, and then stages like yesterday where it's kind of unsure what we will get in the end.
“And that's because we have great riders like Jasper Phillipsen, Wout van Aert and those guys who can survive hills.
“So it is going to be a challenge for Dylan Groenewegen, for example or Fabio Jakobsen who still represents these pure sprinters.”
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