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Tour de France

Kittel the favorite in Friday’s sprinter-friendly Tour stage 7

The 213.5km route is expected to end in a mad dash to the line.

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TROYES, France (AFP) — 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, 213.5-kilometer 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.

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“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 f—k things up a little bit if we’re going to beat him.”

Kittel was the dominant sprinter at the 2013 and 2014 Tours before missing the 2015 edition due to illness and injury. That year, his fellow German Andre Greipel proved to be the sprint master with four stage wins.

Last year, Kittel was back but his Quick-Step Floors 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 seven or eight wheels back 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 kilometer before rolling over the line 13th, as Frenchman Arnaud Demare won.

And Demare, unlike Kristoff, is unbowed by Kittel’s apparent superiority.

“There are more sprints to come, I’ll take my revenge [Friday],” he 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.”

Tough ask

For several other sprinters, however, 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 (Cofidis).

On Tuesday, Bouhanni complained Demare had cut across his path in the sprint finish. On Thursday, Demare’s FDJ teammate Jacopo Guarnieri accused Bouhanni 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-30s Celsius, but beating Kittel is proving a tough ask for everyone.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.