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Marcel Kittel takes fifth win on flat Stage 11 in 2017 Tour de France

James Spender
12 Jul 2017

Kittel delivers fifth stage victory in bunch sprint

Marcel Kittel won Stage 11 of the 2017 Tour de France to take his fifth stage win of the race after a bold attack by Maciej Bodnar came so close to upsetting the status quo on what otherwise looked like another routine day for the sprinters.

Bodnar was caught inside the final kilometre on the streets of Pau after an increasingly frantic chase, from where Kittel made no mistake despite starting his sprint several bike lengths off the front. Dylan Groenewegen (Lotto-NL Jumbo) continued his impressive form to follow his third place yesterday with second today, while Edvald Boasson-Hagen of Dimension Data took third.

Until about 25km to go the stage had followed the now-predictable flat stage formula of a breakaway coming together early on, being allowed to open a limited time gap then being held and progressively reeled in as the sprinters' teams cranked up the pace as the kilometres to the finish ticked down.

It made for possibly the quietest what was the quietest stage so far, on a flat course that was essentially a rest day on wheels for the main contenders. 

Rolling out

Eymet to Pau had always felt like it would be a laborious but necessary affair, like a filler episode in a good TV series, 205km of flat taking riders into the south of France before they swing towards the mountains where (we hope) the real fun will begin.

Over the course of the day we learned a lot about Joanna Rowsell Shand’s upcoming entry to the Etape, while earlier Mark Cavendish wished ITV's presenters ‘good luck for this long flat’ before signing off on a telephone interview that had clearly been held back for such a dull stage that it would stand out as arguably the highlight of the day’s coverage.

But otherwise it was business as usual. Three riders were clear – Frederik Backaert (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) again forced the early break, and had been joined by Marco Marcato (UAE Team Emirates) and Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe). With 135km to go Backaert notched up his 400th kilometre of breakaway action in this year's Tour in breakaways, a stunning effort from the 27-year-old Belgian.

The first round of big race news came with 94km to go when a dozen-rider pile up just after the feedzone took out Dario Cataldo (Astana), who was forced to retire with a suspected broken wrist. Surely a big blow for Astana GC hopeful Fabio Aru as the race enters the mountains in the coming days. Jacob Fuglsang also seemed to be nursing a wrist injury but received treatment on the road and continued.

The intermediate sprint was won, uncontested, by Marcato, with 61km to go and a lead of over two minutes on the unconcerned peloton. The race then moved over the only major climb of the day, the cat 4 Cote d’Aire-sur-l’Adour, with Backaert allowed to lead the trio over the top for the single polka dot point on offer.

Meanwhile FDJ’s Arthur Vichot was receiving treatment after a crash with a spectator, but looked to be fit to continue, if rather peeved.

Bodnar’s breakaway friends couldn’t hold the pace, so slowing some 25km from the end the Pole attacked off the front, with the gap down to 45 seconds. At first it looked like a desparation move from a man looking for a last helping of TV time for a team that has already lost its two leading riders, Peter Sagan and Rafal Majka.

Plenty in reserve

But Bodnar had clearly kept plenty in reserve over the course of the stage, as kilometre after kilometre the slender advantage was maintained.

With 5km to go the peloton suddenly looked nervous at Bodnar’s escape, putting Quick-Step’s Tony Martin on the front, who pulled the gap down to 18” from 25” before signalling his matches were burnt, but still Bodnar was away. Could this be a magical moment for the Pole? All too soon the gap dropped under 10 seconds, and it seemed the game was up.

Bodnar had seemingly accepted his fate, with a look over his shoulder and a sudden loss of power as he approached a left-hander just inside the flamme rouge. But coming out of the corner Bodnar accelarated again, the rope-a-dope move his final card in what was always likely to be a losing hand but came oh so close to being a fairytale ending.

With barely 500m to go Bodnar was swept up, and from there it was just a matter of watching the peerless Kittel powering to a fifth stage win of this year's Tour.