Marcel Kittel underlined his dominance of this year’s Tour de France sprints as he won stage 11 in Pau for his fifth victory of the race, while Chris Froome came home safely to retain the yellow jersey.
German Kittel made it two wins in two days following his victory in Bergerac 24 hours earlier, as the pack broke the heart of solo escapee Maciej Bodnar inside the last 300 metres of the stage.
“It’s something outstanding we are achieving here,” Kittel said. “It is a lifetime experience.”
Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen of LottoNL-Jumbo was second ahead of Team Dimension Data’s Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen. Dan McLay of Fortuneo-Oscaro came home in fifth, his third top-ten finish of this year’s Tour and best yet, with Ben Swift of UAE Team Emirates ninth.
Team Sky’s Froome crossed the line in the peloton to retain his 18-second lead over Italian national champion Fabio Aru in the general classification.
The sprinters cruelly denied Bora-Hansgrohe’s Bodnar, who dramatically attacked out of the breakaway group with 28 kilometres remaining and tried to solo home, having been out in front from the very beginning of the 203.5km stage from Eymet.
But as the line approached, the Pole could only watch as Quick-Step Floors’ Kittel, still well back in the pack at that point, swung around him before overhauling his rivals.
“I’m not so happy about today,” said a dejected Bodnar. “I can be happy about my legs but not the end. You do all day on the front, you have 250 metres only to go.”
It was noticeable that John Degenkolb’s Trek-Segafredo team used social media to describe Kittel as “unbeatable” just after the finish, but even if his rivals believe it, Kittel dismissed the idea.
“Everyone can be beaten,” he said. “That’s something that I always keep in my mind. I always keep the pressure on myself. If you get arrogant and think you are unbeatable then you will lose.”
Aru’s Astana squad suffered a major blow in a feed zone crash with Jakob Fuglsang, fifth in the general classification, hurting his arm while key helper Dario Cataldo was forced to abandon the race.
AG2R La Mondiale’s Romain Bardet, who sits third, 51 seconds off Froome’s pace, also hit the deck but quickly recovered, while two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador went down with around 20km remaining before pacing his way back with the help of team-mate Jarlinson Pantano.
“It was very nervous,” Bardet said. “I was twice caught in crashes. I’m happy to get away unhurt and to see the flat stages away.”
Froome stayed clear of trouble but admitted the incidents made for a more stressful day.
“It was quite a nervous day in case the crosswinds really kicked off,” the three-time Tour winner said. “I think for that reason we saw one or two more crashes.”