TOURS, France (AFP) – Germany’s Marcel Kittel underlined his status as the top sprinter at the 100th Tour de France by beating Britain’s Mark Cavendish to victory on the crash-marred 12th stage on Thursday.
Kenyan-born Briton Chris Froome of Team Sky finished just behind to protect his 3min 25sec lead over Alejandro Valverde of Movistar and 3:54 advantage over two-time race winner Alberto Contador.
However, for the second time in three days Froome lost a teammate as Edvald Boasson Hagen abandoned due to shoulder injuries sustained in a late spill. Vasili Kiryienka dropped out after missing the time cut on stage nine.
Froome did well to stay clear of the late pile-up, and despite the flat terrain, he admitted: “It seems like there’s no such thing as an easy day on the Tour de France. It was a hard day out there.
“Every time I cross the finish line there’s a little sigh of relief.”
As Froome took another step towards an anticipated yellow jersey battle in the Alps beginning Sunday, Kittel matched compatriot Erik Zabel’s record for the most wins by a German in a single edition.
He also won the race opener and stage 10, when Cavendish came third having caused a crash which brought down Kittel’s Argos teammate Tom Veelers.
“I didn’t know that. But I’m proud of it,” said Kittel. “Today it was great to beat Cavendish in a straightforward sprint.”
Kittel, though, had one opponent fewer to deal with for the bunch gallop to the finish after compatriot Andre Greipel (Lotto) was delayed by a spill which brought down several of his teammates inside the last two kilometres.
Greg Henderson, Jurgen Roelandts and Marcel Sieberg all hit the tarmac and although they escaped serious injury the pile-up delayed Greipel sufficiently to end his sprint hopes.