Argos-Shimano general manager Iwan Spekenbrink has described Marcel Kittel’s third stage victory at the Tour de France today as a highlight of the team’s campaign to date.
Kittel best 24-time stage winner Mark Cavendish to claim stage 12 in what was an exemplary display of teamwork and tactical nous.
“The other teams and the other sprinters are also at the best of their abilities so you hope one time it falls in your direction, and maybe the other time the other one’s direction. But now it’s fallen three times in our direction,” Spekenbrink told Cycling Weekly.
“For me, today was a highlight because Cavendish attacked and it was Marcel passing him. It was like a queen sprint and I think this is very big for him and the team.”
Kittel turned professional with an incarnation of Argos-Shimano in 2011 and won its first Grand Tour stage at the Vuelta a Espana the same year.
The 25-year-old made his Tour debut last season but was forced to withdraw during the fifth stage due to illness. He came to France this year with the aim of winning a stage and finishing the race he has since celebrated a stint in both the yellow jersey and green jersey having claimed the flat Grand Depart
“Marcel came to us in 2011 and we won our first stage in the Vuelta, our first stage in a Grand Tour, with him. Then a big, big sponsor came, Argos, and from that point on we kept growing. Winning three stages in the Tour is a little symbolic for the development of the team,” Spekenbrink said.
Kittel has grown with the team and the team has grown with the German sprinter. The outfit had previously operated under a Professional Continental licence. It confirmed a three-year deal with Argos in March last year and is racing with top-tier registration in 2013.
Argos-Shimano altered the order of its sprint train today with Tom Veelers not adopting his usual role as second last man to Kittel.
Veelers made contact with Cavendish in stage 10, which Kittel won, and suffered from skin abrasions and bruising.
Koen de Kort assumed the Dutchman’s role today leading the race and his sprint leader perfectly around a 90 degree turn before the 450m finishing straight.
“John Degenkolb did a great job. He did a really long turn on the front and won the battle with Quick Step for the lead going into the last kilometre,” de Kort said.
“Incredibly, Roy Curvers came around once again and took me through to the second last corner so all I had to was kick into the last corner and kick out of it.”
From there, Kittel fended for himself.
“I knew already for Koen it was too far to go to 200 or 250m because he did a lot of work before,” Kittel said. “But it was also no problem in that moment because I saw Matteo Trentin from Quick Step going out. I could go to his wheel, sit there for a second, and then I saw Mark Cavendish passing me on the right side and I could jump onto his wheel. From that moment on I could just wait until he started to sprint and then I could also start my sprint.”
Cavendish, who joined Omega Pharma-Quick Step this season and is working with new and former teammates in France, had been sitting in the slipstream of chief lieutenant Gert Steegmans when Kittel maneuvered to Trentin.
Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) was unable to contest the sprint. The 30-year-old was held up in a late crash that saw teammates Greg Henderson, Marcel Sieberg and Jurgen Roelandts, who started the Tour with a fractured rib, injured in the pile-up.
Kittel is the only sprinter to have won more than one stage at the Tour so far. He is yet to finish a Grand Tour but it doesn’t seem he will struggle to do so here. Degenkolb is a co-leader and, with others, will still search for his own winning opportunities, outside flat stages, throughout the race.