German rider Marcel Kittel won Tuesday’s 10th stage of the Tour de France in a nervy sprint finish that saw Mark Cavendish nudge another rider off his bike and Chris Froome stay safe to keep the yellow jersey.
Kittel held off countryman Andre Greipel and Cavendish in a dash to the line to win his second stage of the Tour, but Cavendish could be in trouble after appearing to veer into Dutchman Tom Veelers, sending him tumbling to the ground, as they sprinted for home.
“I touched him. The road was bearing left,” Cavendish said. “Yeah, it was my fault ... I hope he’s OK.”
Froome was at a safe distance behind the incident, much to his relief.
“That’s everyone’s worst nightmare. Fortunately, I was to the side of that crash and went around it no problem,” Froome said. “I’m feeling really good, today was a great day for us, staying out of trouble, staying at the front. That was one of the objectives today, save the legs as much as possible.”
The 25-year-old Kittel became the first rider to win two stages on this year’s race, after taking the first stage of what has been an incident-filled centenary Tour so far.
“Things went very well with my team,” Kittel said. “I’m very proud that I could show today how fast I am, how strong my team is and how good we work together.”
Veelers was not seriously harmed and was later able to answer questions outside the team bus.
“I had the feeling Cavendish was boxed in my wheel,” Veelers said. “He touched my handlebars and knocked me over.”
Peter Sagan, who won the green jersey for best sprinter on last year’s Tour, finished the stage in fourth. The Slovak holds a commanding 83-point lead over Greipel and is 103 clear of Cavendish, who won the green jersey in 2011.
The finish looked tailor-made for Cavendish, who was looking for his 25th career Tour stage win to move level with Frenchman Andre Leducq on the all-time list of Tour stage winners.
“I think this team could’ve done something differently [today],” Cavendish said.
As the British rider moved into position to attack before the final corner, he appeared to lean into Veelers and send the Argos-Shimano rider flying off his bike. Race stewards were examining the incident.
After seeing a replay of the incident, Kittel gave Cavendish the benefit of the doubt.
“I cannot imagine that it was on purpose because it was a very hectic situation,” he said.
After the stage, Cavendish was involved in an incident with a reporter at his Omega Pharma-QuickStep team bus, angrily grabbing the reporter’s recorder when asked if the crash was his fault.
Following a rest day, the 197km flat trek started from Saint-Gildas-Des-Bois in northwestern France and finished in the walled port city of Saint-Malo, a popular tourist destination on the northern coast of Brittany, and the pack set off at a gentle pace.
Froome, who was the Tour runner-up to countryman Bradley Wiggins last year, has a healthy lead over second-place Alejandro Valverde and two-time champion Alberto Contador. The British rider was looking to increase that in yesterday’s time trial — a 33km dash from Avranches to Mont-Saint-Michel, a walled medieval masterpiece in Normandy.
“Definitely a day where I will try and extend my lead,” Froome said. “It’s definitely a day that could help the general classification. I definitely want to go for it.”
A five-man breakaway attacked from the start, opening up a lead of five minutes, but they were caught with a few kilometers remaining.
The 28-year-old Froome took the yellow jersey on Saturday with a devastating attack on the last climb of the first Pyrenean stage and then successfully defended it the following day in the face of attacks from his rivals.
He stays 1 minute, 25 seconds ahead of Valverde, while Contador is 1:51 behind in sixth.
Froome finished last year’s Tour time trial in second place behind Wiggins. However, this time none of his main rivals is as quick as him and they face serious time losses.
“With other general classification riders, I don’t think they really like these kind of time trials,” Froome said. “I should be able to hold on to my advantage and maybe get some more time. “
Following the time trial, there will be two flat stages before the Tour heads back to the mountains.
There have been several crashes so far and there were a couple of minor ones on Tuesday as the pack hurtled toward the finish line.
The first brought down two riders as the peloton split in two going around a roundabout, and another two fell after locking bikes slightly further on. All of them hopped back on their bikes and continued.
“Every day you get through with the yellow jersey is a blessing,” Froome said. “So I’m happy just to tick that one off.”