NUITS-SAINT-GEORGES, France: Marcel Kittel pipped Edvald Boasson Hagen by the tiniest of margins in a photo finish to the Tour de France seventh stage here on Friday.
To the naked eye, and even television pictures, it seemed impossible to separate the pair as they crossed the line.
But after a nervous wait and several inclusive views of the finish line battle, Quick-Step’s Kittel was awarded his third stage win of the year and 12th in total, matching the record for a German held by Erik Zabel.
It was the second year in a row that Kittel had won a stage in a photo finish having edged out Frenchman Bryan Coquard 12 months ago.“It was so close, like last year with Bryan Coquard,” he said.“When there’s a photo finish you always have doubts and there again it really was so close.”
Kittel added: “Edvald was aggressive, I haven’t seen him that strong for a long time.”And Kittel also wrenched the green jersey, which he held for two days earlier in the Tour, back from Arnaud Demare, who could manage only 11th.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for Norwegian Boasson Hagen who looked all set for victory until a late charge by the irrepressible Kittel, already winner of the second and sixth stages, although far more convincingly.
Boasson Hagen took defeat on the chin with grace.“It’s a pity I couldn’t finish it off. I was so close,” he said.Australian Michael Matthews finished third as reigning champion Chris Froome maintained his overall lead at the end of the 213.5km stage from Troyes on another day of minimal drama, until the controversial finish.
A four-man breakaway had gone clear in the opening part of the stage but they were always doomed to failure and caught 6km from the finish.For the overall contenders it was another day to simply stay out of trouble before the weekend’s back-to-back mountain stages when the yellow jersey battle will return to centre stage.
“Tomorrow is already a very tough stage but I think Sunday will make the difference for the overall standings,” said Froome.“Tomorrow already we’re going up quite a big climb with 20-25 kilometres to go, it could shake things up a bit but the bigger obstacle to come is on Sunday as we go into the Jura mountains and tackle Mont du Chat before the finish.”
Froome’s Sky team-mate and British compatriot Geraint Thomas remains second at 12sec with Italian Fabio Aru, the winner of Wednesday’s fifth stage, third at 14sec.In the meantime, the top sprinters will have two days to lick their wounds and try to conjure up a way to stop Kittel.