Marcel Kittel scored his 80th career pro win in dominant fashion on stage 1 of the Tour of California, which this year is part of the World Tour calendar for the first time since its inception. Riding the US race for just the second time in his career, the German – who turned 29 a few days ago – didn’t give any chance to his opponents and sprinted to a convincing victory in the centre of Sacramento, the city which hosted the start and finish of the opening stage.
A breakway of four riders – Floris Gerts (BMC Racing), Jonny Clarke (United Healthcare), Charles Planet (Team Novo Nordisk) and Ben Wolfe (Jelly Belly-Maxxis) – escaped early on but were never allowed to gain more than two and a half minutes.
With around 75 kilometres left of Sunday’s pan flat stage, crosswinds threatened to wreak havoc at the race, and Quick-Step Floors, sensing an opportunity, moved to the fore, splitting the peloton. Riders were scattered all over the road, but things eventually calmed down a few kilometres later, as not many teams were committed in pushing a hard pace and keeping the gap.
Soon after, another attempt to break the bunch followed, but this time all the teams were attentive and the only result was that the advantage of the four escapees shrinked to under a minute. The quartet managed to stay in the lead until the final ten kilometres, when they got reabsorbed by a single file peloton.
On the Sacramento city circuit, Quick-Step Floors made their way to the front with around four kilometres remaining, outnumbering and outpacing all the other lead-out trains and delivering Marcel Kittel in a perfect position to open his sprint. The powerful German made it look easy, as he pounced with 200 metres to go and nabbed his first victory on US soil, beating Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Elia Viviani (Team Sky) in the process.
“I’m happy to make my return to the Tour of California with a stage victory, which came with this beautiful yellow jersey as bonus,” said Kittel.
“I enjoyed being out there today: the stage was nice, we had great weather and some really fantastic fans who gave us a warm welcome. It’s an excellent start to the race for our team, which gives us even more confidence and motivation for next week. The guys were strong throughout the day and rode intelligently, I’m very proud of them, so chapeau for an impeccable job.”