Tears as Kittel ends long wait with thrilling sprint success
The longest stage of this year's Tour de France, measuring 237.5km, was settled by a margin of just 28 millimetres as Marcel Kittel pipped Bryan Coquard in a thrilling uphill sprint finish.
This was the ninth Tour stage win of Kittel's career, and the first for the Etixx-QuickStep sprinter since Paris in 2014 but it was only confirmed after officials checked the photo in Limoges.
Tinkoff's Peter Sagan came home in third to retain the yellow jersey, but there was disappointment for Mark Cavendish as he became separated from his team-mates and found himself boxed out before coming over the line in eighth.
Kittel wore yellow with opening stage victories in 2013 and 2014, but the German was forced to miss the 2015 Tour in a season wrecked by illness.
Though he had to wait for confirmation of his win here, once it came so did tears.
"I don't believe you explain emotions, they just come out," the 28-year-old said.
"The victory means a lot. I know how hard I worked to get back after being sick so many times last year and missing out on the Tour. It was a very difficult moment in my career."
Cavendish won two of the first three stages this year to wear yellow for the first time in his career and move level with Bernard Hinault, second all-time with 28 Tour stage wins, but there was frustration here as his route to the line was blocked.
Cavendish (Dimension Data) said he was too busy concentrating on "trying to dodge people going backwards" than he was on the actual sprint after he almost crashed with 5km remaining.
"It was a bit sketchy," he said. "With five kilometres to go I nearly crashed and I lost my lead-out.
"Then I didn't want to hit it too early. I thought I'd be on Kittel's wheel, but the next thing it was about survival, trying to dodge people going backwards; all the lead-out men. It wasn't about concentrating on the sprint but dodging riders."
Sagan's third place means the world champion has moved back ahead of Cavendish in the battle for the points leaders' green jersey.
Today's fifth stage finishes in the ski station of Le Lioran, the first proper hill this year.
Defending champion Chris Froome said it was maybe "a bit too early to see a real GC battle" but predicted that there would be time gaps between the GC contenders.
"It's maybe a stage for someone like (Julian) Alaphilippe or (Alejandro) Valverde or Dan Martin," he said. "Those guys are going to be the favourites tomorrow."
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