The 28-year-old German was victorious in Limoges, where he captured his 14th Grand Tour success.
It probably was the toughest finish of this year's Tour de France for a flat stage and Marcel Kittel delivered, proving again he's one of the fastest guys in the peloton and scoring his 11th win of the season and the 34th of the team, one which came after a long day in the saddle and a huge effort by the Etixx – Quick-Step team. As expected, the longest stage of the race had a calm beginning, with just four riders making it in the break – Alexis Gougeard (AG2R), Markel Irizar (Trek-Segafredo), Oliver Naesen (IAM Cycling) and Andreas Schillinger (Bora-Argon 18) – and an explosive finale, which saw Marcel take the win by a whisker ahead of Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie).
Stage 4 of the Tour de France, traveling over 237.5 kilometers from Saumur to Limoges (which returned as host town after a 16-year hiatus) was all about the final kilometer, an uphill one with a 6% average gradient in the last 600 meters, which meant the favourites had to be well-positioned in the pack, have enough power in the legs for the tough hill and find the perfect moment to start their effort, aware that timing could prove decisive in the outcome.
After Julien Vermote controlled again the peloton, spending countless kilometers at the head of it in the second part of the day, Etixx – Quick-Step played it perfectly in the closing kilometers, hitting the front with around 1200 meters to go, just as things began to spice up. Tour de Suisse points jersey winner Maximiliano Richeze was the last man of Marcel Kittel, who opened his sprint with 300 meters left and took center road, charging towards the line. Powering on the uphill drag, the 28-year-old hold off all his opponents, including Coquard, for one of the smallest winning margins seen by the Tour de France in recent history.
"It wasn't easy for the team and me after the last three days. The ambitions and expectations were high and the pressure was there, especially after getting so many wins in the first part of the season. Yesterday, after the stage, we analysed the finale, talked about our mistakes in a positive way and everyone learned from it. I tried to motivate the boys and today they did a marvelous job. We were there when it mattered, I was brought up in the right position and had a perfect timing", said Marcel Kittel, who now has 14 Grand Tour victories to his name.
By coming out on top on Tuesday, Marcel Kittel surpassed legendary countryman Rudi Altig in most Tour de France stage victories for Germany, sitting now in third overall in an all-time ranking with 9 successes, and also became the first rider to get wins in two Grand Tours this season, after sprinting to victory in the Nijmegen and Arnhem Giro d'Italia stages: "I am super happy and it's great to return to the Tour de France with such a victory. I knew since yesterday that my legs are strong and wanted to win for the team, who was really incredible. We still have some opportunities ahead in the race, but first we want to enjoy this day."
White jersey Julian Alaphilippe, who concluded safely the stage in 15th place, thus keeping his second position in the general classification, was equally happy for his teammate: "Today, our goal was to take Marcel to the finish, while Dan and I tried not to lose any time. Can't say it wasn't stressful in the last kilometers, but we overcame all the obstacles. I am very happy for Marcel, he totally deserved this victory. It's incredible to be part of a team which gets the win, it gives you a really special feeling."