Troyes - Who can stop Marcel Kittel, that's the question at
the Tour de France on Friday.
The big German sprint ace raised a glass of champagne after
winning Thursday's sixth stage at a canter, having already tasted victory on
Sunday's second stage.
And ahead of Friday's flat 213.5km seventh stage from Troyes
in Champagne to Nuits Saint Georges in Bourgogne, the Tour's top fast men will
be asking themselves how to beat the 29-year-old vintage sprinter.
"Kittel is the fastest rider in the Tour. We know it
for some years now he's been the fastest," said Norway's Alexander
Kristoff, who was third on Thursday.
"He must fuck things up a little bit if we're going to
Kittel was the dominant sprinter on the 2013 and 2014 Tours
before missing the 2015 edition due to illness and injury, when his fellow
German Andre Greipel proved the master.
Last year, Kittel was back but his Quick-Step train failed
to control the chaotic mass finishes and he won only one stage, while the more
cunning Mark Cavendish claimed four.
But this year, it is already clear that Kittel is back to
his best and the acceleration he produced to storm up from around seventh or
eighth place to the head of the pack on Thursday showed he was on a different
level to the competition.
Yet he can be caught out, as happened in Tuesday's fourth
stage when he was held up by a crash in the final kilometre before rolling over
the line 13th, as Frenchman Arnaud Demare won.
And Demare, unlike Kristoff, is unbowed by Kittel's apparent
"There are more sprints to come, I'll take my revenge
tomorrow (Friday)," he'd said following the sixth stage, where he had to
squeeze down an almost imperceptible gap next to the safety barriers alongside
Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen in order to contest the sprint.
"Second's not too bad, I only just scraped through a
mouse hole," added Demare.
"I was going very quickly, I was in contention for the
win. But Kittel also arrived at top speed."
However for several other sprinters, the bigger issue is not
so much beating Kittel as simply staying safe and upright.
Tempers have flared, in particular between Demare and his
compatriot Nacer Bouhanni.
On Tuesday, Bouhanni complained Demare had cut across his
path in the sprint finish, on Thursday Demare's FDJ team-mate Jacopo Guarnieri
accused Bouhanni, of Cofidis, of sticking his knee into him.
"He's probably upset with us because he always
loses," said Guarnieri after Bouhanni could manage only fourth.
Demare and Bouhanni will likely have another chance to
sprint for the win on Friday, as temperatures soar once again into the mid-thirties
Celsius, but beating Kittel is proving a tough ask for everyone.