Since the demise of the super team of T-Mobile, German cycling has been in the doldrums but that could all be about change. It looks like the nation might have found their new hero and a true rival to Cavendish in the sprints.
Since 2008 Cavendish has been the wonder kid of the sprint scene. Not often when Cav contests a sprint does he get pipped to the line. If he does, it’s usually down to poor positioning or a poor lead out by team mates (always worth blaming someone else). However, in stage 12 neither of the two plausible reasons why Cav should have lost were credible. The fact of the matter was that the Argo-Shimano rider had Mark’s number and out sprinted the world’s number one sprinter. Mark acknowledged this, saying that Kittel was just faster, as simple as that.
Kittel has had three stage wins and the yellow jersey for a day but this isn’t anything to class as a fluke. The Argo-Shimano (previously known as Skill-Shimano and 1t4i) team have always been seen as a second tier team but they have clearly just been slowly developing the team and all the pieces have now fallen into place to produce a world class leading team.
The German winning ways don’t just lay in the hands of Kittel either. Over at Omega Pharma-Quick Step the world time trial champion Tony Martin took a stage win in the short 33km Time Trial. The stunning back drop of Mont St Michel not only saw Martin take the stage but also allowed Froome to grab more time on his rivals, so much so that the usual aggressive and arrogant Spanish Movistar rider Valverde admitted that Froome is on a separate level in the Tour – the rest are all scrabbling for second place apparently. As the old saying goes “It’s not over till the fat lady sings” though they usually hire a svelte singer to bellow out the national anthem on the podium in Paris, you get the idea though.
In other news, we have seen some upsetting stories. Cav while undertaking his time trial on Wednesday had a ‘fan’ throw a bottle of urine all over him. The culprit was obviously showing their disdain for the previous day’s crash in the sprint finish that many blame Cav for. It’s a real shame as cycling is seen as a sport where fans can come together to cheer, get close and respect the idols they so admire. Events like this usually only happen at rock concerts!
Sky took a major blow yesterday too when within the last 3km a huge crash happened. One victim of the crash was Edvald Boasson Hagen. A leading man in the Sky squad, he sustained a broken scapula. He finished the stage but will not be continuing the Tour. Could this be a fatal blow to Froomes chances of winning? Sky have Geraint Thomas racing with a fractured pelvis, Edvald down and out and Kiryienka was disqualified for being out the time cut on the stage to Aix 3 Domaines.
The next major challenge is Sunday’s stage when the race hits the feared Mt Vontoux. Here we will surely see if Team Sky still have the fire power to keep Froome in yellow.