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Tour de Polgone stages 1-3: Kittel dominates with sprint hat-trick

The seven-day Tour of Poland got under way on Sunday with the first of three flat stages before heading for the climbs in the second half of the race. 2010 winner Dan Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) is back in search of a second victory against a decent field which includes Vincenzo Nibali (who is preparing to defend his Vuelta a España crown), Michele Scarponi, Danilo Di Luca and Tom Boonen.

Each of the opening three stages predictably ended in a bunch sprint, and all three were won by Skil-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel, yet another rising German sprinter, who dispatched his rivals with impressive ease on each occasion.

Stage 1: Pruszków to Warszawa, 101.5km

23-year old Marcel Kittel gave the Pro Continental Skil-Shimano squad its first ever World Tour victory in Warsaw. The German neo-pro comfortably beat BMC’s Alexander Kristoff and Quick Step’s Francesco Chicchi in a chaotic bunch sprint.

The short 101.5km opening stage from Pruszków culminated in eight 8km circuits in the Polish capital. A six-man break featured two Polish riders, Bartłomiej Matysiak (CCC Polsat-Polkowice) and Adrian Kurek (Reprezentacja Polski), alongside Carlos Oyarzun (Movistar), Rodriges Argueles (Katusha), Pierre Cazaux (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Fabio Piscopiello (De Rosa-Ceramica Flaminia).

Kittel claimed both his and his team's first World Tour victory

With six laps remaining, the sextet commanded a lead of just over two minutes on the chasing peloton, who always had the gap under control. The break’s advantage dwindled from 1:16 with three laps left to a mere 24 seconds next time around, and the catch was completed around 10km out.

In a chaotic final 3km, first HTC-Highroad and then Liquigas – for Leigh Howard and Peter Sagan respectively – attempted to bring some order to the front of the peloton, but the battle for position soon descended into chaos and Kittel emerged from the tangled mess to easily hold Kristoff at bay by a full bike length, with the fast-finishing Chicchi a further length behind.

Kittel has already had an impressive debut season, having won a stage and the overall at the Delta Tour Zeeland, four stages at the Four Days of Dunkirk and a stage at the Tour of Langkawi, but this represented a maiden win at World Tour level for both him and his team, which have been competing since 2005.

Kittel promised to defend the leader’s yellow jersey for as long as possible:

I have had a good season and I’m in good shape. But the race ends with a tough stage in the mountains.

It’s a nice feeling to go in wearing the leader’s jersey, and certainly we will defend it as long as possible. But it will be extremely difficult.

Although some way from being a Grand Tour-level sprint field Kittel’s final burst was nonetheless impressive, and a list of scalps which includes 22-year old fellow German John Degenkolb (winner of two stages at the Critérium du Dauphiné) and seasoned campaigners such as Chicchi, Tom Boonen and Heinrich Haussler is no small achievement for a young neo-pro. He is certainly one to watch for the future, and with cycling’s transfer window now open he is sure to catch the eye of Pro Tour teams looking to boost their sprint roster.

Stage 1 result:

1. Marcel Kittel (Skil-Shimano) 2:07:26

2. Alexander Kristoff (BMC) same time

3. Francesco Chicchi (Quick Step) s/t

4. Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervélo) s/t

5. Michele Merlo (De Rosa-Ceramica Flaminia) s/t

Stage 2: Częstochowa to Dąbrowa Górnicza, 162km

Marcel Kittel repeated his stage one heroics and successfully defended his yellow jersey after a crash inside the final 3km decimated the peloton, leaving only 30 riders to contest the finish.

You could have been forgiven for mistaking stage two for stage one, as the break-away included three men – Bartłomiej MatysiakAdrian Kurek and Pierre Cazaux  – who had also featured in the previous day’s break. They were joined by Paolo Bailetti, as Ceramica Flaminia opted for a different participant in the escape group.

The quartet built a lead of nearly five minutes, with Kurek winning two of the three intermediate sprints to put him in the virtual lead of the race before the peloton whittled down their advantage to just 41 seconds as they started the first of four concluding 5.6km laps and swallowed them up just before the beginning of the penultimate lap.

The sprinters’ teams jostled for position entering the closing kilometres, but with just over 2km to go an Astana rider pulled across the road near the front of the peloton and the green jersey of Alexander Kristoff and a handful of other riders came down in the resultant confusion behind. Most of the peloton were able to stop and safely negotiate their way around the crash, but this left only a small group of around 30 to contest the final sprint.

With Skil-Shimano teammates available to help drive the lead-out in the final 500 metres, Kittel was able to follow Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervélo) as he opened up the sprint early, before springing off his wheel with a powerful burst to beat the Australian rider by more than two bike lengths. Rabobank’s Graeme Brown was third.

The ten-second bonus for the win meant Kittel retained the overall lead, seven seconds ahead of Kurek. After the stage, the yellow jersey said:

I’m thrilled. I was already happy for yesterday’s victory and to manage a replay on this finish line today is really an indescribable joy.

Once again today I must thank my team mates for having set me up in the perfect conditions to go for an excellent final sprint.

Another day, another win for Kittel. Both the manner and margin of this victory were even more assured than on stage one, albeit against a smaller field. He selected the right wheel to follow in Haussler, then demonstrated the patience to hold his sprint until the right moment. Impressive stuff.

Stage 2 result:

1. Marcel Kittel (Skil-Shimano) 3:38:35

2. Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervélo) same time

3. Graeme Brown (Rabobank) s/t

4. Caleb Fairly (HTC-Highroad) s/t

5. John Degenkolb (HTC-Highroad) s/t

Stage 3: Będzin to Katowice, 135.7km

Kittel completed a clean sweep of the opening three stages with yet another dominant performance in the bunch sprint in Katowice. Victory extended his lead in the general classification to 17 seconds ahead of the first hilly stage tomorrow.

As has become a familiar pattern this week, the two Polish teams CCC Polsat-Polkowice and Reprezentacja Polski, Euskaltel-Euskadi and De Rosa-Ceramica Flaminia were represented in the day’s breakaway, as Łukasz Bodnar, Piotr GawroskiDaniel Sesma and Gianluca Maggiore respectively were joined by Katusha’s Arkimedes Arguelyes. The five-man group built a lead of five minutes until Kittel’s Skil-Shimano squad started to bring down the gap as the peloton started eight 11.2km loops of Katowice.

With four laps remaining, the deficit was exactly two minutes and the break was slowly reeled in with almost metronomic accuracy: 1:30 with three laps to go. 1:01 at two laps and finally 25 seconds as they started the final lap. By then an impatient Bodnar had jumped away from his breakaway companions in a futile attempt to escape the catch, but with Omega Pharma-Lotto driving hard at the front he was brought back early on the last circuit.

Vacansoleil, working for their sprinter Romain Feillu, lent their weight to the pace-making to prevent any late counter-attacks, as the peloton – keen to avoid a repeat of the previous day’s crash – organised itself for the final sprint more efficiently than had been the case so far in the race. Under the 1km banner first Omega Pharma and then HTC-Highroad  moved up to the front, looking to pilot Adam Blyth and John Degenkolb into position, with the yellow jersey of Kittel looming ominously just behind.

Degenkolb was the first to blink, stamping on the pedals and manhandling his bike with his signature physical style. However, his jump was far too early on the uphill finish and as he started to fade Kittel squeezed between him and the barrier – brushing an over-enthusiastic spectator as he did so – and pulled away from the entire field to win by an easy two lengths. In a blanket finish, Feillu nosed ahead of Jonas Aaen Jørgensen (Saxo Bank-Sungard), Giacomo Nizzolo (Leopard-Trek) and Blyth to sneak second spot.

Understandably, Kittel was running out of ways to describe the thrill of winning for the third day in a row:

I’m thrilled with this victory. The stage was the hardest one of the three so far. The team was tired after the hard work they did the first two days, but they were great today, too. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for the faith they have in me. It was a super-fast final sprint – my bike’s computer surpassed 78 kph!

As the race heads into the mountains, he admitted his focus will now be on the green jersey points competition – in which he leads Feillu, 60 points to 50 – rather than the yellow jersey:

In the next stages I’m going to be especially careful to survive the mountains and I’m going to try to help my teammates whenever I can. The points jersey? Let’s see how these next three days go and then we can talk about that.

After three flat opening days for the sprinters, the focus now shifts to the overall contenders with three successive mountain stages ahead of Saturday’s finale in Kraków. Kittel’s three days of glory are now over. It is time for the overall contenders to step forward.

Stage 3 result:

1. Marcel Kittel (Skil-Shimano) 3:09:29

2. Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil-DCM) same time

3. Jonas Aaen Jørgensen (Saxo Bank-Sungard) s/t

4. Giacomo Nizzolo (Leopard-Trek) s/t

5. Adam Blyth (Omega Pharma-Lotto) s/t

General classification:

1. Marcel Kittel (Skil-Shimano) 8:55:00

2. Adrian Kurek (Reprezentacja Polski) +0:17

3. Gianluca Maggiore (De Rosa-Ceramica Flaminia) +0:22

4. Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:24

5. Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervélo) +0:24

Points classification:

1. Marcel Kittel (Skil-Shimano) 60 pts

2. Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil-DCM) 50

3. Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervélo) 40

Mountains classification:

1. Bartłomiej Matysiak (CCC Polsat-Polkowice) 6 pts

2. Paolo Bailetti (De Rosa-Ceramica Flaminia) 4

3. Michał Gołaś (Vacansoleil-DCM) 3

Links: Official website

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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