Kittel wins again but big mountain tests loom
MICHAEL Matthews has emerged from a frustrating few days to finish third in stage seven of the Tour de France - a result he said "felt like a win".
German Marcel Kittel continued his sprint dominance with a third win, this time taking out a photo-finish against Norwegian Edvald Boassen Hagen that had kept both riders waiting in suspense for several minutes.
For Matthews it was a morale-boosting outcome after a frustrating stage six that saw him criticise his teammates and dangerous rivals "willing to risk their lives".
"I was a little bit frustrated, but I guess that's the Tour de France isn't it?" Matthews said.
"It's the pinnacle of the year and the race everyone dreams of from such a young age. I feel like in this race there's no giving up. As long as you keep trying it's going to work out.
"This is my third year here and last year getting my first stage win, I just kept trying and it paid off. This year I'm not approaching it any differently."
Matthews was this time piloted into perfect position by his Team Sunweb teammates at the business end of another long and hot 213.5km day.
He congratulated every rider back at the team bus and cast a very different figure to 24 hours earlier.
"We had a plan and we just needed to stick together. I think that's what we've maybe lost the last couple of days; we get a bit panicky in the final and we lose each other," he said.
"But today we stayed calm, we knew exactly what we needed to do and we delivered it. It wasn't the win, but for us it felt like a win.
"We all know if we can get a good result with the team we have here. We brought a team to do really good leadouts and it's a team that's used to do doing good leadouts with (former Team Sunweb sprinter) Kittel.
"I think maybe if I started my sprint a bit earlier, second would have been possible but Kittel is another level."
Kittel, who took a stranglehold of the points classification, held up three fingers to signify his three stage wins in this year's Tour.
The victory was his 12th in the Tour de France, equalling Erik Zabel's record for stage wins by a German.
"It's an incredible success. I'm really proud of it," Kittel said.
"I'm in great shape. I'm super happy that the team supported me so well today. I think we did a good lead-out. We believed in this chance, in this victory.
"It's just crazy. Being back here now in the Tour ... celebrating now already three stage wins is incredible. I'm so happy about it and I'm enjoying every minute of it."
There was again no change in the general classification, but it will be a different story this weekend with two mountainous days awaiting.
Richie Porte said he was bracing for "the first big shake up" with the stage eight climb to Station des Rousses and a brutal stage nine that features four huge climbs, including the fearsome Mont du Chat.
"Tomorrow (Saturday) is a bit of an unknown to be honest. It's kind of a finish that we don't normally do in the Tour - a 12km climb and then a plateau to the finish so I'm not sure what's going to happen there. It should be interesting," Porte said.
"We've got climb after climb on Sunday and I think it's going to be a hard weekend for everybody. We just have to see how it's raced, though.
"I'm not sure, there's a fair distance to the finish after the climbs so it could be a negative race as well."
Chris Froome, who coasted through another flat stage in yellow, said the weekend would reveal all.
"It's very close in the general classification, but this weekend we'll see exactly where everyone is at once we hit the big mountains, especially on Sunday's stage," Froome said.
"I'd say that stage is going to be very decisive."