SAINT-MALO, France: Germany’s Marcel Kittel of Argos dominated a dramatic group sprint to win the 10th stage of the Tour de France as Britain’s Mark Cavendish escaped sanctions for his role in a late crash.
Yellow jersey holder Chris Froome of Team Sky finished the 197km between Saint Gildas des Bois and Saint Malo just behind the sprinters to retain his lead of 1min 25sec on Spaniard Alejandro Valverde of Movistar.
On a day the peloton were hit with crosswinds as they successfully reeled in a five-man breakaway, Froome was only too happy to avoid being caught up in the crash which saw Dutchman Tom Veelers hit the ground after Cavendish barged into him.
“That’s always everyone’s worst nightmare, getting caught in a pile-up,” said Sky team leader Froome. “Fortunately I was to the side of that crash and went around it no problems.”
Kittel, the winner of stage one when he also took the leader’s yellow jersey, pipped compatriot Andre Greipel (Lotto) to become the first sprinter on this year’s 100th edition to win two stages.
But the German admitted the crash had taken the shine off his second stage victory.
“I’m really happy to have won but the victory is tempered a bit by the crash. I hope Tom isn’t too injured,” said Kittel.
Veelers, who sustained no serious injuries but admitted he was “bruised and scratched”, said: “I think it’s clear to see on the video that he (Cavendish) is riding me into the ground.”
But asked if Cavendish should be disqualified, the Dutchman replied: “I’ll leave that up to the jury. I’m not the one who decides.”
Veelers had slowed down after finishing off leading out Kittel and the Dutchman found himself crashing to the ground at speed after the Manxman barged in from the right.
Remarkably, race jury president Vicente Tortajada Villaroya cleared Cavendish of any wrongdoing.
“Veelers had done his job for Kittel, he was tired and he was looking down. If we have to blame anyone, it is Veelers,” said the Spanish official.
“There has been no complaint from Argos, but we were not considering sanctions or a disqualification.”
However, the incident made waves among the riders, especially those who had to try to avoid it.
Australian Matt Goss had to employ some slick bike-handling skills, veering quickly off to the left, to avoid Veelers as he and his bike spilled across the road.
“That was more ass than class,” said the Orica-GreenEdge sprinter.
Greipel’s Lotto teammate Greg Henderson, meanwhile, was more critical of Cavendish’s move.
“Big congrats Argos and @marcelkittel. Really hope Tom Veelers is ok. Completely knocked off his bike unnecessarily. That’s not professional,” Henderson said on Twitter.
Asked how it felt to beat top sprinters like Cavendish and Greipel, who have both won one stage apiece on the race, Kittel said: “It’s something I was really looking forward to.”
But he played down the incident.
“Their handlebars touched each other… I cannot imagine that it was on purpose because it was a very hectic situation,” added Kittel.
Cavendish, the British champion and the winner of 24 stages on the race, finished third and later declared his innocence.
“The commissaires are already putting the blame on me… you can see he (Veelers) moves a little bit right, I move a little bit left, it’s not like I took his wheel, I’m following the road,” he said.
“It was the arms that touched anyway.”
Later, on his twitter feed, Cavendish posted a message which read: “There’s no way I’d move on a rider deliberately, especially one not contesting a sprint. I hope @tom_veelers is ok.”
The 11th stage is a 33km time trial from Avranches to Mont Saint Michel and should see Froome, the Olympic bronze medallist in the discipline, extend his lead over rivals like Valverde, Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans.