LIÈGE, Belgium (VN) — Marcel Kittel fought through Saturday’s prologue, coming in 25th, 21 seconds off the pace of RadioShack-Nissan’s Fabian Cancellara. Not a bad result, considering the German is here for one reason, and one reason alone — to fight for sprint wins.
“I’m good now. But after the prologue, when I was in the finish, my legs felt like wax a little,” the Argos-Shimano rider told VeloNews, smiling. A prologue like this is just something the sprinter has to survive. He’ll angle to battle against Mark Cavendish (Team Sky), Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and the other fast men throughout this Tour.
Shortly after the prologue, Kittel was cooling off on the trainer, dripping with sweat. But he smiled easily, and chatted up the passer-by. It’s his first Tour de France, and he seems to be enjoying the experience.
“I think I started to realize that I’m in the Tour when I saw the parcours for the first time today. All the people. Everyone’s screaming your name and they are totally crazy. But it’s so much fun, and I really enjoy to be here,” he said. “Today was painful. But it was still a lot of fun.”
There’s reason to think he can win a stage at the Tour — perhaps more than one, even. In mid-June, Kittel beat Cavendish twice at the Ster ZLM Toer. In 2012, he’s won two stages at the Tour of Oman, a stage at Three Days of de Panne and the Flanders classic Scheldeprijs.
“I think after the last weeks, I can be very confident. The team can be very confident. We know that we are able to beat those guys,” Kittel said. “Every time when you beat the top sprinters, then you get a lot of confidence and that helps you a lot at the coming race.”
He had 17 wins in 2011, one of which came at the Vuelta a España. Of course, none of those are the sprints at the Tour, which begin winding up with 40km to go.
Kittel is still learning how to pick his way through an elite bunch in the closing kilometer, and he’ll have to rely heavily on a team that’s new to the spotlight of expectations — from the media and from other teams in the peloton.
“I just have to follow my team. In the beginning of a sprint, that’s the most important part,” he said. “I hope we’re in front. I hope I’m able to sprint.”