An unstoppable Marcel Kittel took his fourth stage win of the Tour this year, and took the record for most Tour de France stage wins by a German sprinter from Erik Zabel. Kittel’s 13th career Tour stage win came ahead of John Degenkolb of Trek-Segafredo and Dylan Groenewegen of LottoNL-Jumbo.
After the first rest day of the Tour de France, riders returned to racing at the 178km stage between Perigueux and Bergerac. The stage featured just two category 4 climbs and with a flat run in to the finish it was just about guaranteed that the stage would end in a bunch sprint. Of principle interest would be who of the sprinters would rise up to seriously challenge for the green jersey, and also with Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish and Arnaud Demare all gone from the sprints; would anyone be able to challenge Marcel Kittel or Andre Greipel for stage honours?
Offredo back in the break
Yoann Offredo of Wanty-Groupe Gobert and Elie Gesbert of Team Fortuneo-Oscaro went on the attack early in the stage with Offredo being the original instigator. Unlike previous stages where the peloton have been reluctant to give multiple breakaway riders much more than about 3-4mins, the duo were permitted to build a reasonably significant lead in the stage, establishing an advantage that went upwards of 5.30mins. Eventually the usual suspects in Tiago Machado of Katusha-Alpecin, Julien Vermote of Quick-Step Floors and Lars Bak of Lotto Soudal made their way to the front of the peloton to try and bring the race back and with 100km remaining the time gap shrunk beneath 5 minutes.
Cofidis were playing a large role towards the front of the race, with a number of riders on hand to position Nacer Bouhanni well. Bouhanni was now the rider France would primarily look to for success in sprint stages, with the absence of Arnaud Demare from the start list. Demare finished outside the time limit in stage 9 along with three of his teammates and a handful of other riders including Juraj Sagan of Bora-Hansgrohe, Matteo Trentin of Quick-Step Floors and Mark Renshaw of Dimension Data.
With 90km of racing remaining the leading duo’s advantage had been cut to just over 4 minutes. It was thus far reading like clockwork in the stage, with everything going as expected. The gap to the bunch continued to drop and drop progressively quicker, to less than 3 minutes with 79km to go. Once again the peloton would need to decide whether they would allow the break to stay out in front, or whether they’d catch the break early and risk counter attacks.
Greipel fastest of sprinters early on
The 3 minute time gap held with 57km to go as Offredo led Gesbert across the intermediate sprint. That time gap was expected to drop significantly though as the sprint teams ramped up the pace on the run in for third place. Quick-Step Floors now sent a train of riders up to the front for Marcel Kittel, the current green jersey, also beginning to make an impression on the front of the race were a few more riders from Team Sunweb. Jack Bauer was right in the mix as he tried to lead out Marcel Kittel. But it was Andre Greipel who took third place ahead of Kittel, with Alexander Kristoff taking fifth place.
Once across the line for the intermediate sprint normal service resumed with Katusha-Alpecin, Cofidis and Lotto Soudal each having one rider on the front ahead of Team Sky. The break had lost a little more time, but not a huge amount; with a lead of 2.35mins still in the break’s favour. Steadily again though, the break’s lead trickled back down to under 2 minutes with 40km of racing remaining. Again though Offredo and Gesbert dug deep again to stretch the lead back out again to 2.20mins.
Inevitably though the intensity in the peloton was always going to lift, and with 27km of racing remaining the minute time gap was finally broken. Offredo and Gesbert looked like the momentum had been taken out of them, as Quick-Step Floors sent a delegate to the front of the race to contribute to the chase. With 25km to go the gap was just 36 seconds. Thomas De Gendt made his way to the front and seemed to be of the opinion that the catch was going to be made just a bit too soon at this rate, and he allowed the leaders to just stretch things slightly to 48 seconds or so. Eventually the leading pair managed to regain a lead of just short of a minute with 20km remaining.
Bouhanni tussles with Quick-Step Floors
The peloton were motoring along at 55kph, but still no one sprint team were really asserting themselves at the front of the race. Team Sky remained the constant, poised just behind the individual chasers from Lotto Soudal and Quick-Step Floors. With 15km to go the gap was down to 26 seconds. Direct Energie were one of the early teams to really show their hand on the front, with Astana also making a move to try and protect Fabio Aru. Lotto Soudal began to really assert themselves on the right hand side of the road. Wanty-Groupe Gobert didn’t have a big train at the front, but there were a couple of jerseys evident on the front of the race; with Dion Smith trying to get in position. Interestingly it was again Marcel Kittel not quite getting in position just yet.
With 9km left to race the gap was still at 15 seconds, but the break were kicking against the wall, giving everything but knowing that the catch was coming. Dion Smith was poised just behind BMC Racing’s riders at this point, around the centre of the road. Meanwhile on the right hand side of the road Quick-Step Floors began to come through, but something looked to have been said between Nacer Bouhanni and what looked like Jack Bauer; resulting in a bit of push and shove between the two riders.
As the break were swept up Lotto Soudal continued to dictate the pace, although they were being challenged strongly. Direct Energie tried to make a move, but the boys in red weren’t giving anyone any leeway. Jack Bauer had moved up to fourth or fifth wheel, but without his teammates around him. Katusha-Alpecin were next to come forward, but Lotto Soudal quickly closed them down too and continued to lead with 4km to go. LottoNL-Jumbo were getting in position behind Katusha-Alpecin but still Quick=Step Floors hadn’t shown their hand yet.
Kittel simply unbeatable
All the while with 3km to go every now and then Dion Smith and one or two teammates came into view. Lotto Soudal looked to have executed their strategy well with 2.5km to go as the technical turns began. Kittel at this point was 23 riders back, and not looking strong like he was in a position to contend for the win. Bahrain-Merida then hit the front of the race ahead of Lotto Soudal, as Kittel now began to make his way forward. Adrien Petit hit the front for Direct Energie with just 1km to go. But going into the final corner Lotto Soudal led the way.
Alexander Kristoff was well positioned to strike and so too was Nacer Bouhanni and Andre Greipel. Greipel found himself boxed in though and on the other side of the road from nine riders back Marcel Kittel cruised through to take a comfortable win by more than a bike length from John Degenkolb, Dylan Groenewegen and Rüdiger Selig, with Alexander Kristoff rounding out the top five ahead of Nacer Bouhanni. Andre Greipel, after being so well positioned for the final sprint, finished 12th.
Dion Smith crossed the line in 20th place as teammate Pieter Vanspeybrouck took 8th place on the stage. Jack Bauer crossed the line in 25th place, with George Bennett 39th; all of them finishing with the same time as Kittel. With Michael Matthews finishing 13th Kittel extended his lead significantly in the green jersey classification, and he now enjoys a 98 point lead over Matthews.
Overall there was no change in the top ten, Chris Froome continues to lead and George Bennett maintains his 10th place overall, 47 seconds behind Mikel Landa of Team Sky.