Pile up in De Panne sends Kittel off the rails

Driedaagse De Panne: Stage 3a, De Panne to De Panne

Kittel eventually finds his bike…

Stage 3a turned out to be an old-fashioned clash between two long time rivals: not riders necessarily, but the bike, and public transport. Which would come out on top?

Marcel Kittel did his part to advocate the humble €9,000 S-Works push bike, while the De Panne public transit system, and the rails it ran along, attempted to prove otherwise.

As riders passed through the finish line on the circuit around De Panne it seemed like the transit system would win.

Riders found themselves on a busy stretch of high street with tramlines running through the middle. These thin death traps are usually enough to encourage anyone to slow down, and maybe walk for a bit, but riders ploughed on, trusting their instincts and hoping they weren’t about to find themselves looking back, as they slid on their backsides across the asphalt, at their front wheel stuck in the middle of one.

Pile up in De Panne

As if to prove how lethal these things were six riders went down in a giant tangle, as shoppers looked on. Others had bunny hopped across the rails successfully, but these six were from the wrong side of the tracks, and had failed miserably.

A lapse of concentration somewhere led to a touch of wheels, and the pile up that brought Kittel crashing down. The cameras picked up on them all trying to extricate themselves, and their bikes, from an enormous tangle of spokes and top tubes. Much like a child’s puzzle – you simply picked a piece of metal, followed it to the end, and hoped it led you to your bike.

Kittel was down for at least a minute as the pack rode on. Tim Declercq and Fabio Sabatini were waiting to pace him back, but the camera showed the damage – a long empty road reaching to the horizon, with the peloton at the end of it. Could he get back in 13.5 km?

Logic suggested that you’d need to catch a tram to make up that sort of distance, but Kittel soon had four teammates working with him as they raced to rejoin the group, which by now was taking on the tramlines for the final time.

Most riders had learned their lesson the first time around not to mess with them, and one rider in particular had figured out that the safest way to cross them was as close to 90 degrees as possible. Which he did, knocking Julien Morice of Direct Energie clean off his bike in the process.

Kittel meanwhile had finally reached the back of the peloton, his teammates sending him to the front with 2 km left to race. That he won the stage, and from so far back, is credit to them as much as the talents of the German sprint star.

A win for him, and his team. Plus an “up yours” to the tramlines.

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