VENDOME, France (VN) — Thinner and better in the hills than ever before, Marcel Kittel might race Milano-Sanremo this month, despite expectations to the contrary.
Etixx – Quick–Step is mulling sending its star German sprinter to the Italian monument on March 19 even though he said he wouldn’t take on Milano-Sanremo this spring. A lot of that depends on how Kittel fends for himself in this week’s climb-heavy Paris-Nice. If Kittel is powering up the hills, he might be headed to Italy after all.
“We will see how he goes here at Paris-Nice, especially on the third day,” Etixx sport director Tom Steels told VeloNews. “That’s not a stage for him to win, but we will see how he climbs.”
This year’s Paris-Nice features perhaps three stages for the sprinters, including Monday’s first stage that features farm roads and a sharp climb on a closing circuit that could unseat the pure sprinters. The second and fourth stages are less complicated, but Steels said it’s the Ardennes-style third stage, with seven rated climbs, including a second-category hilltop finale, that should decide Kittel’s Sanremo fate.
“We will see. Usually the selection is made a few days after Tirreno-Adriatico,” Steels said “Now from the UCI, we have 72 hours, so we can still change it in the last minute.”
In 2013, Kittel emerged as the new powerhouse in the sprints, but despite this newfound domination, Kittel has never raced Milano-Sanremo, long considered the “sprinter’s classic.” In fact, he’s only raced one monument — the 2011 Paris-Roubaix (he finished outside the time limit). He has ruled the GP Scheldeprijs, the Belgian semi-classic that is shorter and not as demanding, winning three straight editions from 2012-2014.
Kittel has already won five races in just 10 days of racing so far this season (four stages, and the overall at the Dubai Tour) — that’s four more than he won during the entire 2015 campaign. Newly motivated with his move to Etixx, and fully recovered from an illness that plagued him last season, Kittel looks to be back at his best, and this week’s Paris-Nice will serve as an important milestone.
“Marcel is sprinting great so far this season. His sprints have been impressive,” Steels said. “He’s so explosive. Even when it’s up and down, he’s doing better.”
Regardless if there’s a last-minute change for Milano-Sanremo, Steels said the season goal remains the same: putting Kittel back on top in the bunch sprints in the grand tours. The Giro d’Italia and Tour de France remain top goals, with an eye on the world championships in Qatar, in October.
“It’s been our planning at the beginning of the year, and it’s very important for him to win stages again in the big tours, in the Tour de France, and to get his confidence back,” Steels said. “I don’t see any doubt about he’s going very good right now.”