Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) outsprinted Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) to win stage 12 of the 2013 Tour de France.
Cavendish looked set to bounce back from a torrid two days with victory, but Kittel came round the Manx Missile to beat him on the line after a stunning acceleration.
It was the German’s second stage victory in three days, and his third of the 100th edition of the Tour, to underline why Cavendish increasingly sees him as his main sprinting rival.
“It’s absolutely crazy,” Kittel said. “I feel really good at the moment. My team have been excellent.
“That win means a lot to me and I would like to dedicate it to my team, especially Tom Veelers.
“He had to fight really hard just to finish today. I really love my team.”
After a cautious start, which saw the peloton remain as one, Francesco Gavazzi (Astana) instigated a break, with Romain Sicard (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Anthony Delaplace (Sojasun), Manuele Mori (Lampre-Merida) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) joining him.
On fast, flat roads they built up a maximum gain of nine minutes, but with the peloton maintaining a speed of around 46km/h throughout they were soon brought under control.
While Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Alexandre Geneiz (FDJ) and Gatis Smukulis (Katusha) all fell in the peloton, the bunch remained largely untroubled en-route to Tours.
Led by the sprinters’ teams, with Bart de Clercq (Lotto-Belisol) in particular taking long turns at the front, the bunch narrowed the gap to less than three minutes when the break reached the intermediate sprint.
Flecha launched a long attack for the sprint, but Gavazzi caught him to take maximum points, while in the peloton Cavendish took the kick.
Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) followed him over the line, but points classification leader Peter Sagan (Cannondale) was left fuming after Kris Boeckmans (Vacansoleil-DCM) appeared to block him.
The sprint saw Sicard drop back to the bunch, leaving the remaining four escapees to attack and counter-attack each other as the peloton drew ever closer.
Mori, Delaplace and Gavazzi were soon swallowed up and Flecha’s final attack was caught inside the final few kilometres.
With the sprint trains forming at the front of the peloton a number of crashes caused mayhem in the bunch, with Orica-GreenEDGE taken out of contention and Greipel hitting the deck in a big pile-up inside the final three kilometres.
It left Argos-Shimano and Omega Pharma-QuickStep to set up their sprinters, with Sagan going it alone.
But with Gert Steegmans having appeared to drop Cavendish off perfectly, Kittel came through to outsprint the Manxman and win by half a wheel.
The full extent of the late crashes remains to be seen however, with Edvald Boasson Hagan (Team Sky) looking in particular pain as he rolled over the finish line.
Tour de France 2013 – stage 12 – result
1 Marcel Kittel (GER) Argos-Shimano – 4:49:49
2 Mark Cavendish (GBR) Omega Pharma-QuickStep – same time
3 Peter Sagan (SVK) Cannondale
4 Alexander Kristoff (NOR) Katusha
5 Roberto Ferrari (ITA) Lampre-Merida
6 Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica-GreenEDGE
7 Jose Joaquin Rojas (ESP) Movistar
8 Yohann Gene (FRA) Europcar
9 Juan Jose Lobato (ESP) Euskaltel-Euskadi
10 Samuel Dumoulin (FRA) Ag2r-La Mondiale
1 Chris Froome (GBR) Sky Procycling – 47:19:13
2 Alejandro Valverde (SPA) Movistar Team +3’25”
3 Bauke Mollema (NED) Belkin Pro Cycling Team +3’37”
4 Alberto Contador (SPA) Team Saxo-Tinkoff +3’54”
5 Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Team Saxo-Tinkoff +3’57”
6 Laurens Ten Dam (NED) Belkin Pro Cycling Team +4’10”
7 Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) Omega Pharma-Quickstep +4’44”
8 Nairo Quintana (COL) Movistar Team +5’18”
9 Rui Costa (POR) Movistar Team +5’37”
10 Jean-Christophe Peraud (FRA) Ag2r-La Mondiale +5’39”