The Arctic Race of Norway marks the comeback in competition for several Tour de France riders, including John Degenkolb. It's also the first step for sprinters in the lead up to the World Championship in Doha, Qatar, on October 16. Ten days ahead of the closure of the qualifying procedure, the winner of Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix in 2015 is prepared to serve a small-size German team.
"Right now I'm only looking at Hamburg [Vattenfall Cyclassics] and Plouay [Bretagne Classic]," Degenkolb told Cyclingnews prior to the start of stage 1 in Fauske. "The Arctic Race of Norway is at a good distance from the Tour and it's a very good race to prepare for Hamburg and Plouay. The World Championship is a big goal, also for Germany but what kind of role I will play in the team, it's not clear yet, but I'll be hoping to do a good race there together with the team."
On paper, 50 years after the last rainbow jersey was brought back to Germany in 1966 by the late Rudy Altig, a course designed for sprinters suits a team led by Marcel Kittel, André Greipel and Degenkolb. But Greipel, who will resume racing at Hamburg next week left the Tour de France with a brilliant stage win in Paris but also with a lot of doubts with regards to his selection for the World's due to the limited number of riders to be selected by the German cycling federation.
"We're not that good [this year]," Degenkolb confirmed in Norway. "We've only six riders I think for the World's. We won't go to the race with nine riders like last year for example. I don't think the results at the Arctic Race and Hamburg can make a big difference anymore because we're so far back. We're not getting more than six riders…"
On August 22, the day after the Vattenfall Cyclassics, the UCI will release the number of spots available per country. The top 10 nations of the world ranking currently led by France will have nine starters for the elite road race on October 16. Germany is 12th with a deficit of 118 points from 10th placed Slovakia. The top six nations of the Europe Tour qualify six riders but Germany is only eighth on that classification. They might even end up with only four starters in Doha.
Such news is not dramatic for Degenkolb. He returned to racing at the Tour of California in May after being injured from a terrible accident he and some of his teammates from Giant-Alpecin had in Spain during a training camp in May. The sprinter from Gera is yet to win a race this year but his fourth places at stage 14 to Parc des Oiseaux and stage 16 to Bern during the Tour de France were encouraging.
"I was feeling pretty OK," Degenkolb said. "It was a harder Tour de France but I had a good condition coming out of the Tour. It was different because normally you're super, super tired when you finish the Tour but this year I had less races before, so I was building up my shape during the Tour, it was kind of weird. But it was very positive.
"I'm really happy to have done such a nice Tour de France. It was a good three weeks for me. After the last stage, I did nothing for five days. I didn't touch my bike, then I took part in some criteriums, I trained at home. I'm feeling on a stable form again and hoping to be able to make a good result here in Norway."
Degenkolb started the stage 1 sprint at the Arctic Race of Norway with 300 metres to go and was nipped at the line by stage winner Alexandre Kristoff.