Marcel Kittel asserts sprint mastery at the Tour de France

In Photo: Stage winner German sprinter Marcel Kittel, wearing the best sprinter’s green jersey, rides with the pack during the 10th stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 178 kilometers (110.6 miles) with the start in Perigueux and finish in Bergerac, France, on Tuesday.

BERGERAC, France—Marcel Kittel has no serious challenger for the King of the Sprint title at this year’s Tour de France.

The German sprinter won the 10th stage with remarkable ease on Tuesday, while Chris Froome stayed safely in the main pack to retain the race leader’s yellow jersey.

Kittel perfectly timed his effort in the final straight to post his fourth stage win since the start of the race, crossing the line ahead of fellow German John Degenkolb.

The stage took the peloton on a flat, 178-kilometer run from Perigueux to Bergerac in southwestern France.

Froome, the three-time Tour champion, will wear the yellow jersey for the 50th time on Wednesday—joining five-time Tour winner Jacques Anquetil in fourth place on the all-time list behind Eddy Merckx (96), Bernard Hinault (75) and Miguel Indurain (60).

“A huge, huge honor,” the British rider said of the 50 days in yellow.

Kittel was in 10th place after negotiating the two sharp corners of a challenging final kilometer, before turning on the power to surge ahead of his rivals with 150 meters left and securing his 13th career win on the Tour.

He won by a bike’s length and had plenty of time to raise his arms in celebration before crossing the line.

Kittel said his confidence is high after his string of victories.

“I know now from the last sprints that I can hold that speed to the finish line,” he said. “I almost cannot believe what’s happening here at the Tour.”

Dutch rider Dylan Groenewegen completed the podium in the medieval town.

With Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan and Arnaud Demare out of the race, Kittel strengthened his grip on the best sprinter’s green jersey. French sprinter Nacer Bouhanni, who had to settle for a sixth-place finish, acknowledged Kittel’s superiority.

“Kittel was the strongest, he came from behind,” Bouhanni said. “He won four sprints out of five, he is the best sprinter of this Tour.”

Bouhanni was later fined 200 Swiss francs ($207) and given a one-minute penalty in the general classification for “assault”, the race jury said without elaborating. Video footage shows the French rider elbowing an unidentified rider from the Quick-Step Floors team toward the end of the stage.

After a plane journey across France and a rest day, the race resumed in Perigueux for a flat ride through the lush landscapes of the Dordogne province in southwestern France.

Following a hectic stage in the Jura on Sunday and with two hard stages in the Pyrenees mountains later this week, Froome and his main rivals were happy to let two French riders with no ambitions for the overall race lead escape from the pack.

Yoann Offredo went on his own immediately after the race director waved the flag to signal the start. He was joined soon afterward by Elie Gesbert, the youngest rider in the peloton at 22 years old and the pair quickly opened a gap.

Their lead stabilized at about five minutes as the peloton moved past the Lascaux cave, a prehistoric World Heritage site featuring some superb hunting scenes. Second-place Fabio Aru was all smiles near Domme—a picturesque town perched on a breathtaking cliff above the Dordogne river—and shook hands with another rider at a pedestrian pace.

“We chatted, admired the countryside. It was very pleasant,” Warren Barguil said, summing up the day.

Toward the end, the sprinters’ teams organized the chase, reducing the deficit of the peloton to a little more than two minutes with 40 km left. Offredo and Gesbert fought hard until the end, but were hampered by a strong headwind and were caught seven kilometers from the finish.

There was no major change in the overall standings, with Aru still trailing 18 seconds behind Froome and Frenchman Romain Bardet in third place, 51 seconds back.

“It was a more quite day today, without wind, no stress,” Froome said. “I’m already thinking about the Pyrenees, it’s the next big goal, I’ll need to be ready.”

Wednesday’s stage is a flat and long 203.5-km route from Eymet to Pau. It will be another day for the sprinters before a mountain marathon of more than 200 km the next day.

Froome said Friday’s stage could be decisive and the next big battle between the contenders for overall victory.

“In the past, we have seen Grand Tours shaped by these stages before,” he said. “That could be another day that could be decisive in this year’s Tour.”

Image Credits: AP