MILAN (VN) — German Marcel Kittel, after being knocked out for most of 2015 by a virus, has found some of the speed that took him to four Tour de France stage wins last summer. It has come just in time, as his team Giant-Alpecin is set to announce its nine-man Tour roster Thursday.
Giant’s Tour lineup should feature climber Warren Barguil, time trialist Tom Dumoulin, and sprinter/classics specialist John Degenkolb, but without Kittel it will not have a sprinter to match the speed of cycling’s best riders in the flat stages.
It appears Giant is leaning toward taking Kittel to the Tour, which starts July 4 in the cycling-mad Dutch city of Utrecht. If he goes, he would race as the team’s sprint leader and not as a helper for someone like Degenkolb, who won Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix this season.
“The deal is that John has his best sprint after a difficult stage and it’s probably too difficult for Marcel to be there in the final to help him,” Giant sport director Addy Engels told VeloNews last month.
“If you compare them, put them together on a flat road and have them sprint, Marcel beats John 10 times out of 10. John’s strength is that when a stage is hard and he’s fighting all day, he suffers less than the other sprinters. You’ve seen that with him winning Sanremo and Roubaix.
“In a normal stage, with a flat bunch sprint, Marcel is still the sprinter.”
The 6-foot-2 blond dominated the Tour’s sprint stages last year with four wins, including the first in Harrogate and the final in Paris on the Champs-Élysées. The 2015 season has been a different story.
He won the non-categorized People’s Choice Criterium two days ahead of the Santos Tour Down Under on January 18, but after that, he went downhill. After returning from Australia, he had a blocked nose, coughed, and missed six to seven training days. In the Tour of Qatar stage race, he made it worse. He had to take a week and a half off his bike and reset his system, forcing him to miss races like Tirreno-Adriatico, Scheldeprijs, and the Amgen Tour of California.
Kittel has yet to raise his arms in victory since January 18, but he has shown some speed again in recent races. In Germany’s Rund um Köln last week, he won the bunch sprint for sixth place, and in the Dutch Ster ZLM Toer he left feeling “proud” of himself.
“In light of all the problems in the first half of the season, I am almost a little proud of the way I finished the ZLM Tour,” Kittel wrote on his website.
His best result was 13th in the prologue and 65th in the first sprint stage won by André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal).
“The goal was mainly to put as much stress on myself as I could. And I achieved that. That I couldn’t recover so quickly after a stage due to my lack of training and race kilometers because of my illness this spring, was to be expected,” Kittel wrote. “I still don’t have the racing hardness and especially on the first day, my legs were pretty heavy.
“This race has helped me. My body is again in the race rhythm and I am motivated and in good spirits as I look to the Tour de France.”
If Kittel races, he will face sprinters Greipel, Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step), Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge), and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis). A win early on against cycling’s greats would immediately turn around his “hard” season and could open the floodgate for more victories.
“It’s been hard for him not being able to race so much this season. Just training and training, you want to see your training pay off with results,” added Engels.
“In the Tour, he could have doubts if he goes to the first difficult stage. There are always the difficult days, but without perfect preparation it could be harder. But it could be that this Tour turns out to be the easiest yet for Marcel.”
Giant’s roster also features Americans Chad Haga, Caleb Fairly, Lawson Craddock, and Carter Jones, but neither of them are expected to be on the Tour roster this year.