Argos-Shimano sprinter Kittel avoided a crash by his lead-out man Tom Veelers – who seemed to be barged by Britain’s Mark Cavendish inside the closing 200 metres – to power past compatriot German Andre Greipel of Lotto-Belisol in the closing straight.
A disappointed Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) was well beaten for third, while green jersey Peter Sagan of Cannondale had to settle for fourth place after being driven wide by the clash between Cavendish and Veelers.
Amazingly, Dutchman Veelers was the only rider to hit the deck in the high-speed crash, with Team Sky’s Froome finishing the 197km stage through Brittany safely to retain his lead at the top of the general classification.
An eventful bunch sprint saw Cavendish eschew the wheel of his regular lead-out man Gert Steegmans in favour of following that of old foe Greipel, who had once again got the better of his sprint rivals earlier in the day in the intermediate sprint.
Just as Greipel jumped, Cavendish responded with a dig – but found his path blocked by the slowing Veelers, who he clipped with his shoulder. The contact was enough to send Veelers – who had strayed slightly from his line – sprawling, while Cavendish’s attempt at doubling his stage haul was also hampered.
Although Veelers claimed afterwards on French TV that Cavendish was at fault, the race commissaires have not issued any punishment for the 28-year-old Manxman. Cavendish has since apologised for his role in the accident.
Back to the finish, and Greipel's commanding lead was negated by Kittel’s blistering late surge, the 25-year-old coming from distance to roar past the German national champion in the final 100 metres to secure his second success of the race after victory on the Tour’s opening stage in Bastia.
It was Argos-Shimano’s 15th win of the season – 13 of which have come from Kittel.
Prior to the fireworks of the finale, the first day of the second phase of the race had been a largely uneventful ride through the rolling Breton hills.
Frenchman Julien Simon, whose home town of Montfort-sur-Meu was past during the course of the stage, attacked shortly after the official start in Saint-Gildas-des-Bois to force the day’s break, the 27-year-old from Ag2R-La Mondiale being joined by compatriot Jerome Cousin (Europcar), Spaniards Juanjo Oroz (Euskaltel) and Luis Mate (Cofidis), and Dutchman Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM).
Riding against strong headwinds but under a pleasant blue sky, the escapees quickly built up a maximum lead of five minutes, but this had been whittled down to just 2:15 by the time the riders passed through the town of Calorguen, where five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault bought a farm back in 1983.
The leaders did not contest the intermediate sprint 70km from the finish, but Greipel led the pack over to take the points for sixth place ahead of a resigned Sagan and Cavendish.
Westra attacked on the only climb of the day, the Cat.4 Cote de Dinan, 55km from the finish. He was soon caught before being the first of the escapees to be swept up by the pack inside the last 20km.
The remaining four fugitives held on until the last 6km, by which time serious crosswinds coming off the Breton coast had tested the teams of the race favourites.
With Saint-Malo fast approaching, Alberto Contador’s Saxo-Tinkoff outfit dropped back after some sustained pace-setting alongside Froome’s Sky colleagues. The scene was set for a mass bunch sprint – but the nasty crash somewhat diminished the spectacle.
Greipel closed Sagan's lead in the green jersey competition to 83 points, with Cavendish a further 20 points back.
Froome retained his 1:25 lead over Spain’s Alejandro Valverde on GC, with Dutchman Bauke Mollema (Belkin) in third place, 1:44 down.
Hostilities for the general classification will resume on Wednesday with the race’s first individual time trial from Avranches to Mont-Saint-Michel, for which Froome will be one of the favourites alongside German national time trial champion Tony Martin (OPQS).
- Sports & Recreation
- Mark Cavendish
- Andre Greipel
- Tom Veelers
- Peter Sagan