Alex Dowsett, like his new Katusha-Alpecin leader Marcel Kittel, is refusing to panic about a lack of success in the Dubai Tour sprints, insisting that the team is "going in the right direction" as they work out the kinks in their lead-out train.
While Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors), Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) won sprints at the Dubai Tour, Kittel's best result was a frustrating third on stage 3. The Katusha-Alpecin lead-out train worked hard to set up the German sprinter but other sprinters were always better placed and faster or Kittel struggled to find a way through the chaos.
"To think that we'd rock up at the Dubai Tour and be a well-oiled machine from the word go is wrong," Dowsett told Cyclingnews.
"The sprints at the Dubai Tour were chaotic. There were a lot of big-name, super-fast sprinters and a lot of experienced sprint trains. It was also the first race of the season for a lot of riders and with pan-flat stages, so every Tom, Dick and Harry thought they're a sprinter and want to try to win."
"We believe we're constantly going in the right direction. We've had our plans for each stage. On stage 3 we stuck to our plan, executed the plan well and it almost came off. Other times someone messed it up in some shape or form. On stage 2 it was my fault and I put my hand up and apologised. But we'll get better and better, we’ll get it right."
"Once we get into races like Tirreno-Adriatico and other stage races, where other teams have different objectives, then it'll be a lot easier to be a more cohesive, slick team."
Dowsett confirmed that tension was running high in the team after stage 2 when the train fragmented in the finale and Kittel could only finish 17th. Some heated words were exchanged as the riders got changed in the shade of a tree post-stage but Kittel kept a cool head in defeat and preferred to encourage rather than criticise his riders.
"We messed it up and tension was running high but Marcel saw that and told us to take a time out and refocus," Dowsett revealed.
"Marcel is classy like that and the day after we were a lot better and he went close to victory. After the stage we were happy because we'd performed well as a team. It wasn't the result we wanted but we had a beer to celebrate. We don't have a drink for a third place but we achieved something and it was a step in the right direction."
New role but freedom to target time trials
Being part of a lead-out train is something new for Dowsett and his move to Katusha-Alpecin after five years with Movistar marks a turning point in his professional career. However, it is one he is happy to make. Dowsett won't be getting involved in the sprint to the line but will use his speed and power to keep the Kittel's lead-out on track in the finale kilometres.
"I'm there for when it needs to be fast but long, that's where I'm good at," he explained.
"I'll try to do a big old stint, with an effort of anything between 400 and 700 watts, to make sure that our core four: Marco Haller, Rick Zabel, Nils Politt and Marcel Kittel get inside the final kilometre together and in the right place."
"It's something new for me. I haven't really led out for five years and not at this level. The last I did anything like this was during my Team Sky days, when we took control of races and dominated finales. But that doesn't happen anymore. Nobody is able to take over anymore, it's impossible."
"If you are racing with fewer aspiration and doing a different role, you kind of think of your own well-bring more because there can be a lot to lose. But now it's more of a 'crash or win' scenario and everyone is happy to have that mentality and commit 100 per cent because we're riding for Marcel and there's a very good chance of him winning."
Dowsett is one of the best time triallist in the peloton and so will play a key role in team time trials and have opportunities to target specific time trials during the season.
"I have a dream situation that I don't need to ask for opportunities on road race stages because I get them in the time trials. I'm lucky," he said.
"I think the Giro d'Italia time trial is my first big personal goal. I'll be back in the Gulf for the Abu Dhabi Tour and I'll be working for Marcel and Zakarin, then there's a time trial on stage 4 too, which is a chance for me."
Dowsett made his debut with Katusha-Alpecin at the Dubai Tour and has only been training with his new teammates for two months. However, he seems to like the ‘slick’ working of what has become an international squad after moving away from its Russian origins.
"It's a really efficient team, really efficient," he said.
"Every team runs differently depending on its goals and perhaps its culture. There's not really a right or wrong way to do things because every team is professional in every sense. Team Sky have done things well, Movistar has been the best team in the WorldTour for the last few years and that's no coincidence.
"Katusha-Alpecin is a very slick machine. I was laughing with someone the other day as I tried to explain what I meant. I came up with this example: At Team Sky a ten o’clock ride meant 9:45, while at Movistar it meant 10:25. At Katusha-Alpecin a ten o’clock ride means ten o'clock."
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