Kittel ended up winning four stages at the 2013 Tour ...

Chasing Le Tour: Kittel takes two

by Matt de Neef

Stage 10 was going to script for the first 196 kilometers: a breakaway, the sprinters’ teams reeling in that breakaway, and the lead-out trains getting themselves organised for the final dash. But a crash in the final kilometre of the stage has got everyone talking, which has detracted from Marcel Kittel’s second stage victory.

In the live coverage it happened so quickly. Behind the frontrunners — Greipel and Kittel — a rider went down, his arms, legs and bike cartwheeling along in the background. It was impossible to say what had happened. But with the aid of slow-motion replays and multiple camera angles we got a much clearer view.

Tom Veelers had led Marcel Kittel out for the sprint before sitting up and drifting his way back through the bunch. Mark Cavendish got caught behind Veelers who drifted slightly to the right, the side Cavendish was attempting to pass on. In an attempt to follow the bending road around to the left, and to get into the slipstream of Marcel Kittel — who’d gone around to Veelers’ left — Cavendish bumped shoulders with Veelers, sending the latter to the ground.

Here’s a .gif animation of the crash, but bear in mind that it starts after Veelers dropped Greipel’s wheel, making it look like Cav just swung out and whacked Veelers for no reason.

As you would expect, the twittersphere lit up post-race with seemingly every cycling fan offering his or her two cents worth. But there were also a handful of the riders involved and other knowledgeable sprinters tweeting about the incident.

Andre Greipel tweeted the following but later deleted it:

Congrats to @marcelkittel and @1t4i [Argos-Shimano]. Hope @tom_veelers is fine after that hard crash. Unnecessary and scary shit.

We spoke to one of Kittel’s lead-out men, Koen de Kort, to get his take on the incident:

Tom’s alright. He’s got a fair bit of skin off but he’ll be ok — he’s been a lot worse, put it that way. It’s a pity — it sort of dampens the spirit a bit but we’re really happy with the victory obviously.

I came up and stopped when I saw [Veelers] on the ground and then I had a chat with him. All he was saying was “did Marcel win?! Did Marcel win?!”

I already figured he was ok. I just told him to stay down and get someone to look at him, because he wanted to get up.

I think Cavendish could have gone around. He goes for the shortest way and the road was going left and obviously Tom was going in the way. I’ve done many lead-outs in the past as the last guy and you swing off and you just hope no-one’s going to hit you. It’s kind of the other sprinters’ responsibility to take care.

Every sprinter’s got a lead-out guy and you have to take care of these guys. Tom wasn’t blocking Cav on purpose or anything – he was just trying to get out of the way. I think as a sprinter it’s your responsibility to go around. I’m sure Cav didn’t mean to knock him down but I think he could have done more to avoid hitting him.

And our take? Well, Cavendish perhaps came off a little childish after the stage by grabbing the journalists microphone when asked if the crash was his fault, but I can’t see how Cavendish would have meant to knock Veelers off intentionally. However, in bike racing, and as Koen said, what’s ahead of you is your responsibility.

Even if Veelers did swing off after Kittle started his sprint, that’s what leadout men do and it’s not the last time it’s going to happen. Cav went through Veelers, not around him.

But regardless of what we or anyone else thinks, all that matters is that the commissaires decided the incident wasn’t Cavendish’s fault and didn’t dock of him of any sprint points, his place on the stage or eliminate him from the race.

Cavendish himself was quick to offer his thoughts on the incident via Twitter:

We’re glad to hear Veelers is OK, aside from some bruising and road rash, and glad no-one else was brought down in the incident. Although it sounds like a few riders weren’t far off:

Tomorrow’s stage is the race’s first ITT, a 33km effort raced in view of the incredible Mont-Saint-Michel. If Tony Martin has fully recovered from his wounds he should be up there, but it will interesting to see how the pointy end of the overall classification is affected, if at all.

Until next time, thanks for reading and be sure to check out the photos from stage 10 below.

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