Kittel wins again in London
Marcel Kittel's Tour de France sprint supremacy continued on Monday as the German won stage three of the Tour de France on The Mall in London.
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The 155-kilometre route from Cambridge was the third and final stage on UK soil ahead of the race's return to France and was always destined to end in a sprint finish.
The peloton raced near Mark Cavendish's Essex home, but the partisan crowd were deprived of the 25-times stage winner's presence by his withdrawal with a shoulder injury sustained on stage one in Harrogate.
Kittel (Giant-Shimano) won four stages to Cavendish's two in the 2013 Tour and already has two wins from three stages a year on after triumphing on Saturday's opening day and again in front of Buckingham Palace, where he once again proved he is the new sprint king.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) was second, with Cavendish's Omega Pharma-QuickStep team-mate Mark Renshaw third.
Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), who assumed the yellow jersey by winning in Sheffield on day two, finished safely in the bunch to retain the overall lead.
Kittel compared winning on The Mall to triumphing on the Champs-Elysees last year."Emotionally, this win is close to the one I got on the Champs-Elysees in Paris last year," he said.
"Winning on The Mall, that's what I dreamed of but, even though I had a good chance to make it come true, it's not something I could take for granted.
"It's really fantastic to win here. On the finishing line, the crowd was fantastic. I love the atmosphere."
He added: "This was one of the fastest sprints I've ever done.
"My job was 500 metres long but the biggest fight was already over. My boys had done a great job before that."
After glorious weather in Yorkshire, the first rainfall of the race arrived after the riders had passed by the Olympic Park in east London.
The day's breakaway pair - NetApp-Endura's Jan Barta and Jean-Marc Bideau (Bretagne-Seche Environnemen) - were swept up in the final 6km and Kittel's Giant-Shimano squad led through Parliament Square and along Birdcage Walk.
Lotto-Belisol took to the front outside Buckingham Palace, but then Kittel's squad took over once more and no-one could match the German's power.
The events unfolded without serial winner Cavendish, who, for the first time since voluntarily exiting the 2008 Tour to prepare for the Beijing Olympics, will not reach Paris, where the race concludes on July 27.
Peta Cavendish, the Omega Pharma-QuickStep sprinter's wife, revealed that the Manxman had a hospital appointment, with a MRI scan required to determine if he would require surgery.
On Monday evening the riders will be on French soil after flying on four chartered aeroplanes from London City Airport, with defending champion Chris Froome (Team Sky) relieved to have negotiated a tricky opening in fifth place after finishing 28th in London.
Whether the Tour's vast fleet of support vehicles make it across The Channel depends, at least in part, on a fully-functioning Eurotunnel.
The stage marked the conclusion of a Grand Depart labelled the best yet and witnessed by millions - Tour director Christian Prudhomme estimated five million people had lined the Yorkshire stages from Leeds to Harrogate and from York to Sheffield.
On a regular working day the roads of Cambridgeshire, Essex, by the Olympic Park in East London and in Westminster, were lined with cycling enthusiasts and the extraordinary crowds are surely only likely to hasten the return of the race across La Manche.
The peloton paraded through Cambridge's tight streets around the university's world-renowned colleges, before heading east into Essex, with Barta and Bideau escaping from the official start.
The duo established a lead of four minutes, with the sprinters' teams, and Nibali's Astana team, content to bide their time ahead of the Tour's second visit to London in seven years, after the 2007 Grand Depart.
Barta continued alone for 2km along The Thames, but his forlorn escape was brought to an end, before the sprinters' teams fought for position, with Kittel prevailing.
Froome said on the official Team Sky website: "It was a good day for us and we're three days into the Tour now. It's quite a good feeling.
"We did get a little bit wet in the final but I suppose it wouldn't have been a British start without a bit of rain."
Froome's chief lieutenant Richie Porte expects a different welcome for the squad in Tuesday's 163.5km fourth stage from Le Touquet-Paris-Plage to Lille.
"The very vocal home support has been absolutely unbelievable," the Australian said.
"I don't expect that in France. It's going to be a little more hostile there.
"Yorkshire was probably something that us guys will never experience again but for a working day London was absolutely incredible too."
Froome is already thinking ahead, particularly to Wednesday's fifth stage across the cobbles of northern France.
"That's definitely going to be quite a shake-up," he said.
Stage three result
1 Marcel Kittel (Ger) Giant-Shimano, 3:38:30
2 Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale, same time
3 Mark Renshaw (Aus) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step, st
4 Bryan Coquard (Fra) Europcar
5 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha, st
6 Danny van Poppel (Ned) Trek Factory Racing, st
7 Heinrich Haussler (Aus) IAM Cycling, st
8 Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar, st
9 Romain Feillu (Fra) Bretagne-Seche Environnment, st
10 Daniel Oss (Ita) BMC Racing, st
28 Chris Froome (GB) Team Sky, st
29 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana, st
35 Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo, st
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana, 13:31:13
2 Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale, +2secs
3 Michael Albasini (Swi) Orica-GreenEdge, st
4 Greg van Avermaet (Bel) BMC, st
5 Chris Froome (GB) Team Sky, st
6 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin, st
7 Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo, st
8 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar, st
9 Jurgen van den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol, st
10 Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale, st