Chris Froome’s support riders dropping like flies as Marcel Kittel ends Mark Cavendish debate

Edvald Boasson Hagen ruled out of Tour de France with shoulder fracture

Marcel Kittel of Germany crosses the finish line ahead of Mark Cavendish of Britain and Peter Sagan of Slovakia (right) to win the 12th stage of the Tour de France over 218 kilometres from Fougeres to Tours yesterday. Photograph: AP Photo

Marcel Kittel of Germany crosses the finish line ahead of Mark Cavendish of Britain and Peter Sagan of Slovakia (right) to win the 12th stage of the Tour de France over 218 kilometres from Fougeres to Tours yesterday. Photograph: AP Photo

Fri, Jul 12, 2013, 01:00


The sense that, although this may be Chris Froome’s Tour, it is not a happy one for Team Sky strengthened yesterday when a crash two kilometres from the finish left the team’s Edvald Boasson Hagen with a broken right shoulder.

Team Sky confirmed in the evening that he would not remain in the race, meaning that going into the Alps, following the earlier elimination of Vasili Kiriyenka in the Pyrenees, Froome’s support riders are down to six.

Boasson Hagen has been a mainstay of Sky’s Tour efforts since the team was founded, winning two stages in the 2011 race and being a vital part of Bradley Wiggins’s 2012 win.

He had two crashes during the stage. The first fall left him with a bruised right elbow but it was the second, which occurred as the peloton lined up for the final sprint, which did the damage: a small fracture of the head of the humerus (arm bone) and the right shoulder blade, according to the Tour’s medical report.

The loss of the Norwegian means that Sky’s margin for error and ill luck is decreasing rapidly. Last year they shepherded Wiggins to his Tour victory with seven riders after the loss of Kanstantin Siutsou early on. But they are now relying on Geraint Thomas recovering from his pelvic fracture and their two best climbers, Richie Porte and Peter Kennaugh, maintaining their form and health.

Carries risks
They have adopted a strategy of having only Ian Stannard beside Froome when the flat stages are at their most hectic, as was seen approaching Tours, and at Saint-Malo on Tuesday; this will save legs for the Alps but it carries its own risks as well.

If Sky’s capacity to back Froome is the biggest unanswered question of this year’s race, there can be no more debate about an issue that has exercised cycling fans for the last two years: when – not whether – Marcel Kittel would fulfil his potential in the biggest event of them all.

Kittel’s stage win yesterday places him at the very top of the sprint tree, being his third of the race, and the three remaining sprint stages in this Tour – today and tomorrow and the final day in Paris – will confirm whether the 25-year-old German has surpassed Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel.

Kittel’s first stage win, at Ajaccio, came without Greipel in the pack due to a crash, and the one that did for Boasson Hagen’s shoulder put “the Gorilla” out yesterday.

However, on Tuesday in Saint-Malo Kittel overhauled Greipel in the final metres and yesterday he meted out the same treatment to Mark Cavendish; the Manxman got a perfect lead-out but, when he jumped, Kittel was able to match and pass him.

As Cavendish’s directeur sportif, Wilfried Peeters, confirmed. “Our tactics were perfect but Kittel is the strongest.”

Finish was tricky
The finish was tricky, with two right-angled corners in the final kilometre, but by then the sprint had come down to two teams – Argos-Shimano and Omega-Pharma-Quickstep – as Greipel had been left in a tangle of men and machines 2km out.

“I saw Mark coming past me, I knew I could get on his wheel and wait to start my sprint,” said Kittel.

Cavendish had no option but to accept defeat with good grace. “The team did everything perfectly, it was spot on today. You can analyse it but, if he’s faster, there’s nothing you can do.”

With so few opportunities left, this is shaping up to be Cavendish’s least successful Tour since he took his first stage win in 2008 and there is more fallout from Tuesday’s close encounter in Saint-Malo with Kittel’s team-mate Tom Veelers.

The organisers of the first criterium after the Tour, in the Dutch town of Boxmeer, have removed Cavendish from their list of wanted riders.
Guardian Service