Six millimetres was all that Kittel needed

Marcel Kittel (Gallo Images)
Marcel Kittel (Gallo Images)

Nuits-Saint-Georges - Marcel Kittel won a sprint finish to Friday's seventh stage of the Tour de France by just six millimetres on Friday, the "closest" victory of his career.

The German edged out Norway's Edvald Boasson Hagen by what official Tour data said was a winning margin of 0.0003 seconds, after more than five hours and 213.5km from Troyes to Nuits Saint-Georges.

But Kittel was no stranger to such close shaves having beaten France's Bryan Coquard in another photo finish 12 months ago.

"I think, in my career that's definitely the closest win I've ever had - even closer than last year in Limoges against Bryan Coquard," said the 29-year-old Quick-Step sprinter.

"Six millimetres decides over a lot of joy or a big disappointment. I'm really happy I could throw my bike far enough to have these six millimetres."

His third victory on this Tour, and 12th in total - equalling the record for a German with Erik Zabel - allowed Kittel to snatch back the sprinters' green points jersey from Frenchman Arnaud Demare, who could finish only 11th after a sleepless night.

"I'm very happy but a bit surprised I could get it today, but it's a sign that things can change in one sprint because on the fourth stage (won by Demare with Kittel 13th) I lost a lot of points."

Kittel started the day 27 points behind FDJ's Demare but is now 15 points ahead.

What was less expected in this sprint was that Boasson Hagen took second, with Australian Michael Matthews third.

"Honestly I wasn't surprised because on Thursday already he was really strong and fast in the final, he just maybe went a bit too early," Kittel said of Boasson Hagen.

"Today, he and Dimension Data timed it right to go in the good moment. It's true Edvald wasn't in that shape and that form for quite a long time, so I was surprised to see him (on Thursday)."

Boasson Hagen showed remarkable grace for a man who'd just lost out on what would have been his first Tour stage victory since his only other two in 2011.

"The team did so well today. They took me all the way to the line with a perfect lead-out. I's a pity I couldn't finish it off," he said.

"However, I'm happy with this second place, even though I would have liked to take the win. I'm not a pure sprinter, so to be able to be up there on these flat stages gives me a lot of confidence for the remaining part of the Tour."

Matthews, another all-rounder rather than pure sprinter, was also delighted with his finish, particularly as he is targeting other stage wins when hillier terrain is less likely to suit the burly fast men like Kittel and his German compatriot Andre Greipel.

"We had a plan + we stuck to it. This definitely feels like a win," said Sunweb's Matthews on Twitter.

For the overall contenders, such as race leader and defending champion Chris Froome, it was a relatively tranquil day in the saddle.

A four man breakaway got clear right from the start and built up a maximum lead of 3:45 on the peloton.

But their futile efforts ended 6km from the finish.

Froome, who sat eating cold porridge in his press conference, said: "Nothing big happened during the day - for the overall contenders we were thinking about the weekend and the mountains."

One of his main rivals, Richie Porte saw things differently, though.

"There was just a little bit of wind there so everyone wanted to be at the front and that made it an absolute nightmare all day. It's just nice to have got that one done," said the 32-year-old Tasmanian.

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