What do Marcel Kittel and François Faber have in common? They’re the only riders in the history of the Tour de France to have won at least five of the first 11 stages at a Tour de France edition. What makes it even more remarkable is that these extraordinary feats are separated by more than a century, until today no one getting close to this record that stood since the Luxembourger claimed a spectacular win in Nice, ahead of Jean Alavoine and Paul Duboc, on July 15 1909.
Equally spectacular was Marcel Kittel’s fifth victory at the current edition of the Tour de France, which came in Pau, one of the most visited venues in the history of the race. On paper, it should have been an easy day for the peloton, who took off from Eymet at noon and allowed only three riders to join the breakaway: Frederik Backaert (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Maciej Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Marco Marcato (UAE Team Emirates).
The trio opened a five-minute gap over the bunch, but Gianluca Brambilla and Julien Vermote, together with riders from three other teams, moved to the head of proceedings and pulled the escapees back until they had them in their sight, with around 25 kilometers remaining. In that moment, Bodnar attacked his companions and forced the peloton to start a frantic chase on the narrow and twisty roads of Pau.
Jack Bauer, Philippe Gilbert and Zdenek Stybar put in some mammoth stints at the front and pegged the Pole back at ten seconds. Inside the final kilometer, Bodnar was still leading, but Fabio Sabatini proved his immense quality once again and closed the gap with 300 meters to go, before Marcel Kittel timed it to perfection and unleashed his huge acceleration on the finishing straight, which netted him victory number five at the 2017 Tour de France.
Minutes after the crossing the line, an over the moon Marcel explained the anatomy of his sprint in Pau, which helped him extend his advantage in the points classification.
“In a sprint it’s like a game of Tetris. In the last days I always got the right gaps, never made a mistake and all the sprinting lines were perfect. Today it wasn’t easy, with 200 kilometers in store and ahead of a tough day in the mountains. Could have been worse with the winds, but the direction wasn’t good for a crosswind”, the German said. “In the final 500 meters, I was in the tenth position and looking for a wheel, so I jumped into Bouhanni’s before moving into the wheel of Matthews. Then I just launched my sprint and that was that. To have so many wins at this Tour de France is incredible and makes me very happy!”
Kittel didn’t forget his teammates, who gave him unwavering support on all the stages so far, be it flat or mountains, all playing a part in the five victories of Quick-Step Floors, an all-time record for the team managed by Patrick Lefevere at a Tour de France edition: “We have a lot of champions in the team and to have them working for me is a big motivation and huge honor. The boys were outstanding since the start of the Tour, rode their heart out for me and these victories are also for them. We are a great team and I think you could see that on every single stage.”