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LONDON (AFP) — German Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) won the field sprint during the opening stage of the Tour of Britain Sunday in Liverpool.
Kittel emphasized his status as the world’s best sprinter, beating out Nicola Ruffoni (Bardiani-CSF) and Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) in the 104.8km eight-lap circuit race.
“It was really messy at the finish,” Kittel said. “It’s always difficult when you have a downhill section in the final kilometer as it becomes really fast and harder to hold position.
“The team were strong today, controlling the race then we had to come really late for the lead-out. We found a way through on the right and this worked well.”
The German continued his impressive form from July when he won four stages at the Tour de France, including the final sprint on the Champs-Elysees.
Cavendish’s failure to upset the German was little surprise given a crash during the stage; the Manxman was reportedly headed to the hospital following the stage. Cavendish has only recently come back to racing following shoulder surgery after suffering a separated shoulder on the opening stage of the Tour. However, he made a successful comeback from injury by winning the opening two stages of the Tour du Poitou-Charentes at the end of last month. Cavendish won three stages at this event in each of the last two seasons.
“I had to change my cleats in the beginning of the stage,” Cavendish said. “I was coming back after and I was behind a car. Someone had to stop for a puncture so the car slammed on its brakes, and there was an island in the road. If I went right, I would hit a traffic island, so I went left and I whacked another car. I hit it with my left leg and I was down on the road.
“I felt immediately a lot of pain on my quadriceps. It took me a lap to come back even because our team car couldn’t assist me immediately because it was on the front. At that point I wasn’t planning to sprint either, it was painful. But after a couple of laps we decided to just try anyway, but [I had to] sprint seated because I was in pain. I still got third, but it’s a shame because I really wanted to try and win in front of the British public. But accidents like this are a part of cycling and it’s just a matter of bad luck. I really hope that the luck turns in the next days.”
Reigning champion Bradley Wiggins (Sky), the 2012 Tour winner, finished safely in the pack.
Kittel’s victory made him the first race leader with a one second advantage over Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani-CSF) and Ruffoni third, four seconds down.
“It’s good to win the first stage,” said Kittel. “It’s really nice to see the reaction of the spectators here — a lot of people came out to the race today.
“It’s a long way until London but it is nice to be the leader here and we will see what we can do tomorrow on stage 2. I hope that as a team we will have more opportunities to challenge for stage victories here.”
American Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) finished fourth, with Britain’s Ben Swift (Sky) in fifth.