ROUEN, France (VN) — Marcel Kittel was billed as a man to beat the field in sprints this year at the Tour de France, but the only race he is concentrating on is the one to survive. On Tuesday, Kittel (Argos-Shimano) placed next to dead last, at 16 minutes back, and yesterday, five minutes back in the last group. On Thursday, he pulled the plug.
“At the moment, I don’t feel pressure at all,” Kittel said before Wednesday’s stage to Rouen. “It’s not about beating those guys at the moment, it’s just about staying in the race. I don’t waste any energy on the sprints at the moment.”
He spoke to VeloNews and a couple of other journalists yesterday outside the team’s bus ahead of the stage to Rouen in northwest France. André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) went on to win the stage, two days after Mark Cavendish (Sky) won the first sprinters’ stage – sprinters Kittel has beaten this season.
Kittel has emerged as one of cycling’s top finishers since turning professional at the start of last season. In 2011, he went on a tear, winning stages in Malaysia, France, Australia, Poland, Holland and at home in Germany. His biggest coup was the Talavera de la Reina stage in the Vuelta a España. This year, he’s won seven times, including the sprinters’ classic, GP Scheldeprijs, and built towards the Tour de France. However, the Tour’s been a disaster.
“It’s much bigger than any race before. I’ve tried to enjoy it as much as possible, but it’s not so easy at the moment,” he said. “If you look at all the people here at the start and during the race, it’s just crazy. I’ve never seen that before.”
Stomach pains and then knee problems held him back. He said that his stomach bug had passed, he was able to eat normally in Wednesday’s stage, but that his left knee was bothering him. It started Tuesday.
After yesterday’s stage to Rouen, VeloNews received an update on his health. He said, “I’ve overcome stomach problems and I will probably overcome this too.”
The 24-year-old didn’t want to abandon. He wished to continue, to try to win a stage in the Tour’s other legs and to help Argos towards a first division license in 2013. His teammates, particularly Patrick Gretsch, stuck beside him in his struggles.
“Of course, it’s very disappointing,” Kittel said before the stage yesterday. “The whole team is here to support me and I need it to stay in the race. I don’t feel very comfortable; I’d like to be in a different position. That’s an experience that sometimes as a rider you have to deal with. I just have to look forward now.”
Kittel is the fourth rider to abandon the Tour this year, after J.J. Rojas (Movistar), Kanstantin Sitsou (Sky) and Marten Tjallingii (Rabobank)