Katusha-Alpecin revealed their new kit for the 2019 season, and introduced their new performance director Erik Zabel and director sportif Dirk Demol, at an official presentation in at the Canyon headquarters in Koblenz, Germany. Sprinter Marcel Kittel, who says he has found extra motivation ahead of a new season, modelled the new baby blue jersey along with the team's traditional red shorts on stage.
"When things go wrong, it forces you to look at how you do things and where you focus your energy," said Kittel, who had a subpar season with only two victories, both at Tirreno-Adriatico in March.
Kittel was time-cut from the Tour de France and didn't finish the BinckBank Tour or Deutschland Tour. In agreement with his team, he ended his season earlier than scheduled in August. He has already kick-started the upcoming season by riding the Saitama and Shanghai Tour de France criteriums in November, and says that he is training and looking forward to 2019.
"I am at a point where I am focusing 100% on my training and my races – I realize I need to focus on the basics. I started training early now for next season, I am feeling fresh and motivated to win again," he said.
Zabel back with Katusha
The team will mark its 11th season on the WorldTour with 24 riders presented on stage in Koblenz, along with Zabel, as the team's new performance director, and Demol as the team's new director sportif.
"We have created a new department within the team, the performance department and Erik will be the manager of this department," said manager José Azevedo. "He will be responsible for all performance of riders, as well as materials and will work along with our sponsors to be sure we have the best. He was one of the best riders of his generation, so he also has experience and advice to share with our sprinters."
Zabel has worked with Katusha in the past, taking on the role of sprint coach in 2012. In 2013, however, Zabel confessed to doping between 1996 and 2003, and he was suspended from Katusha, while Canyon also ended his link to the company as brand ambassador.
Zabel said that he believes in the potential of Katusha-Alpecin and their talented riders, who have a desire to win in 2019.
"Our main goal in the performance department is to support the riders and help them do better,” Zabel said. “They understand that they must work harder to achieve the results they know are within reach."
Zabel said the team will travel to Mallorca on Saturday to begin a training camp where they will also sit down with the directors and team management to discuss their target races for the season.
"I guess you could say I will be monitoring everything in a way it was not handled before, perhaps more strict than in the past, but I feel this is what we need to see results from Katusha-Alpecin," Zabel said.
"Each director will have four or five riders in his 'group’ and will be in constant communication with the rider so we all stay on the same page. Of course, we also need some good luck next year, but I hope that will not be a main factor as we try for results."