Marcel Kittel doubles up in London, Nibali holds on to yellow

Kittel won four stages at the 2014 Tour as well.

by Matt de Neef

Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) has claimed his second victory of the 2014 Tour de France, winning a bunch sprint in wet conditions in front of London’s Buckingham Palace. After finishing safely in the bunch on stage 3 Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) maintains the overall lead that he secured with his win on stage 2.

The third and final UK stage of the 2014 Tour de France began in the world-famous university city of Cambridge, the streets lined with spectators as the riders rolled through the neutral zone. Ahead lay the flattest stage of the race thus far; a 155km ride with no classified climbs, in stark contrast to the nine climbs of the previous day’s “mini Liege-Bastogne-Liege”.

No sooner had the flag been waved for the start of the race than newly crowned Czech TT champion Jan Barta (NetApp-Endura) and Jean-Marc Bideau (Bretagne-Seche Environments) were off, attempting to establish a breakaway. No other riders joined the pair and so it was left to Barta and Bideau to forge on together and establish an early lead.

As the race headed south east out of Cambridge towards the county of Essex, Barta and Bideau built a gap of roughly three minutes within the first 11km before extending it to a maximum of 4:30 with 113km of the 155km stage remaining. Back in the peloton the teams of the sprinters (mainly Giant-Shimano and Lotto-Belisol) and race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) were looking content, the breakaway comfortably within their grasp.

In each town along the route the riders enjoyed the support of the vast crowds we’ve come to expect of this year’s race, but with wider roads than on previous days, there seemed to be fewer issues of spectators getting in the way. For the most part.

The peloton held the escapees’ lead at between three and four minutes for much of the next few hours, with Astana, Lotto-Belisol and Giant-Shimano doing the bulk of the work, the last of those teams lead by the first Chinese rider to ride the Tour de France, Cheng Ji.

With 91km to go the gap was down below three minutes and after the feed zone in Chelmsford with 75km remaining, the pace in the peloton seemed to increase ever so slightly.

Jan Barta and Jean-Marc Bideau only had a fraction over two minutes to the peloton with 63km left to race and it looked as if their lead was going to be eroded well before the finish. But the peloton kept the two riders dangling out front.

With 50km to go a little more organisation started to appear in the peloton with the sprint trains starting to form ahead of the intermediate sprint in Epping. In the breakaway Jean-Marc Bideau took the maximum points and cash prize in front of a huge crowd while Barta had to settle for second. And back in the peloton, Bryan Coquard (Movistar) bested Peter Sagan (Cannondale) for third place despite turning around to keep an eye on the Slovak seemingly half a dozen times in the final hundred metres before the line.

The intensity of the build-up to the intermediate sprint saw the gap between the two breakaway riders and the peloton reduced below two minutes for the first time in hours, dropping down to 1:15. But Barta and Bideau increased their work rate, stretching the lead back out to 1:40 as the riders in the peloton tried to find their teammates ahead of the approaching sprint finish in London.

With 30km left in the stage the gap was back out to 2:11 and a few kilometres later the Lotto-Belisol train came to the front to increase the tempo for their sprinter Andre Greipel. Indeed Lotto-Belisol did most of the work in the following kilometres as the riders made their way through the outskirts of London.

Rain started to fall with 16km left in the bike race at which point Barta and Bideau had just 1:10 over the main field. Barta was clearly the stronger of the two riders with Bideau dropping the Czech rider’s wheel on a number of occasions, including as the pair came out of the Limehouse Link Tunnel with 8.3km remaining.

Bideau was swallowed up by the surging peloton a couple hundred metres later as Barta ploughed on alone. But he too was caught with 6km to go, setting the race up for the bunch sprint that had been predicted.

Tony Martin led the Omega Pharma-QuickStep train at the front of the field with a little under 5km to go and with 3.5km remaining Giant-Shimano came decisively to the front. They successfully navigated Marcel Kittel around a tight right-hand bend with 1.7km to go (while a handful of riders crashed further back) as the German speedster sat comfortably in fourth wheel.

When it came time for the final sprint on The Mall, in front of Buckingham Palace, no-one looked close to beating Kittel. Peter Sagan tucked himself into the German’s slipstream but made no attempt to come around as Kittel crossed the line with arms outstretched. The Cannondale rider took second place and further strengthened his lead in the points classification while Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s Mark Renshaw finished third after picking up the team’s sprinting duties in lieu of the injured Mark Cavendish.

Vincenzo Nibali finished comfortably in the bunch and will wear the leader’s yellow jersey for another day when the race resumes in France tomorrow. Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis) leads the KOM classification after his day in the breakaway yesterday and Peter Sagan leads the best young rider classification, in addition to the points classification.

Stage 4 of the 2014 Tour de France takes the riders 164km from Le Touquet-Paris Plage to Lille with two fourth-category climbs along the way.

Previous stage reports

– Stage 1: Marcel Kittel takes Tour opener as Cavendish and Gerrans crash
– Stage 2: Vincenzo Nibali wins in Sheffield and takes Tour lead overall

Stage results

[rrresults format=’full’ id=’124210′]

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