Marcel Kittel won stage seven of the Tour de France in a photo finish as Chris Froome stayed safe in the yellow jersey.
After 213.5km from Troyes to Nuits-Saint-Georges the race was decided by just six millimetres – or 0.0003 seconds – as Quick-Step Floors’ Kittel snatched victory from Team Dimension Data’s Edvald Boasson Hagen on the line.
Team Sky’s Froome crossed safely in the pack to retain his 12-second lead over team-mate Geraint Thomas in the general classification, with Astana’s Fabio Aru third, 14 seconds down on Froome.
But there was a long wait to determine the winner of the stage with no distinguishable difference on the freeze frame of the line, despite the fact Boasson Hagen had been more than a bike length ahead in the final 100m.
Word eventually came through that Kittel could celebrate his third win of this Tour and the 12th of his career in the race, following up victories on stages two and six this year.
“When I crossed the line, I really had no clue if I won or not,” said the German, who moved into the green jersey as leader of the points classification after the win.
“Before the finish, I knew it was going to be close. At 150m to go, I thought it was still 200, but luckily, the door opened on the right side I could pass Edvald.
“To reach 12 stage wins at the Tour is an incredible success. I’m in great shape.
“I’m super happy. The lead out was great. It’s just crazy. I already have three wins in this Tour. I’m so happy about that.”
The race officials were not the only ones squinting at the images from the line trying to determine who had won.
“It looks like Eddy’s got it, no?” Froome said as he backed his former team-mate. “I think Eddy’s in front.
“That’s sprinting for you. It can be really close. It’s a huge shame for Eddy, but Marcel Kittel has got a lot of class and to lose to him is not bad.”
The victory moved Kittel into the points leaders’ green jersey ahead of Arnaud Demare of FDJ, who could only manage 11th place, just behind Britain’s Dan McLay of Fortuneo-Oscaro.
McLay, who finished eighth on stage six, said one bad decision on the road had cost him several places.
“I waited too long and got stuck on the wheel of Demare,” he said.
“Maybe it was a worse result than (Thursday), but I was coming fast. I just need to trust myself more.”
The general classification contenders have been able to take it relatively easy over the course of two long sprint stages, but the battle for yellow will heat up again over the weekend.
First comes a rolling stage eight from Dole to Station des Rousses, which will have caught the attention of breakaway specialists such as Dimension Data’s Steve Cummings.
But the real test is tomorrow’s stage from Nantua to Chambery, which features three hors categorie climbs including the Mont du Chat – rated as one of the hardest in all of France.
Several of those battling for yellow yesterday tackled the climb in the Criterium du Dauphine in June, with Froome notably attacking on the descent off the back although he would be beaten on the line by Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang and BMC’s Richie Porte.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Froome said. “This is what we spend all season training for, to be good in the mountains.
“It will be good to get up there and off the nervous flat roads. There should be a big weekend of racing ahead.
“Certainly Sunday’s stage is going to be very decisive. There’s going to be a lot of climbing and I think we will see a lot more damage done than we saw in the Dauphine on that climb.”