GERMAN sprint specialist Marcel Kittel hailed London’s throngs of cycling enthusiasts after he prevailed in a frantic dash down the Mall to claim the third stage of the Tour de France yesterday.
Tens of thousands lined the 155km route from Cambridge to the capital – including a stretch through the City along Lower Thames Street – as the Tour completed its three-day Grand Depart on this side of the Channel and Britain consummated its new-found love of all things two-wheeled.
The shoulder injury suffered by 25-time Tour stage winner Mark Cavendish on Saturday in Yorkshire deprived spectators of their best chance of a home victory and left Kittel, his rival for the title of sprint king, to notch his second stage triumph already on this year’s Tour.
“It’s really fantastic to win here. On the finishing line, the crowd was fantastic. I love the atmosphere,” said the Giant-Shimano rider, who beat Slovakian Peter Sagan and Australian Mark Renshaw into second and third.
“Emotionally, this win is close to the one I got on the Champs-Elysees in Paris last year [in the final stage]. Winning on The Mall, that’s what I dreamed of, but not something I could take for granted.”
Tour boss Christian Prudhomme called the three British stages the “grandest Grand Depart” and promised cycling’s most famous race would return in the very near future.
“It was incredible,” he said. “It is going to be unforgettable, as the first time in London was seven years ago. The Grand Depart in Yorkshire was amazing. It was the same on Monday, 30km in Greater London and so many people, everyone with smiles on their faces – it was emotional.
“What the British people have done is magnificent.”
Britain’s Chris Froome, the reigning champion, finished in the pack, meaning he flew to France from London City Airport last night just two seconds adrift of yellow jersey-holder Vincenzo Nibali, of Italy.
“The big thing was to get through the stage, don’t lose time or have any issues or incidents,” said Froome.
“I’m feeling good. On Tuesday we can expect a similar day but on day five we hit the cobbles and that will be quite a shake up – literally.”
Jan Barta and Jean-Marc Bideau built a four-minute lead with an early breakaway and the former went for glory 8km from the finish, on the exit from the Limehouse Tunnel, only to be swiftly caught by the pack.
Cavendish, meanwhile, is to miss next month’s Commonwealth Games as he is due to have an operation tomorrow on the shoulder he dislocated on stage one in Harrogate.
The Isle of Man rider has been told by doctors that he needs six weeks to recover but could, in theory, return for the Tour of Britain in September.
2 Number of seconds Chris Froome trails leader by